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IS claims first operation in Israel, one policewoman killed Featured

17 Jun 2017
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 Israeli borderguards search a Palestinian man outside Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City on June 16, 2017, following an attack (Photo: AFP) Israeli borderguards search a Palestinian man outside Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City on June 16, 2017, following an attack (Photo: AFP)

Three suspected Palestinian attackers were shot dead by security forces, Israeli police said Friday.

Jerusalem: The Islamic State group on Saturday claimed responsibility for the fatal stabbing of an Israeli policewoman outside Jerusalem's Old City, in what would be a first for the jihadists in Israel.

Three suspected Palestinian attackers were shot dead by security forces, Israeli police said Friday.

In an online statement, IS said jihadist fighters had targeted a "gathering of Jews", warning that "this attack will not be the last".

But Hamas, the militant Islamist group that runs the Gaza strip, rejected the claim, saying that the attackers had come from among its ranks and those of a leftist liberation movement.

The assault took place as Muslims marked the end of the third Friday of the fasting month of Ramadan, during which tens of thousands of Palestinians from east Jerusalem and the West Bank attended prayers at the nearby Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam's third-holiest site.

According to police, two perpetrators opened fire at a group of officers who returned fire, and a third stabbed the border policewoman a short distance away before being shot.

"Female border policewoman injured critically in attack at Damascus gate," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld wrote in a statement. "3 Arab terrorists shot by police units that responded at the scene."

Police said the three were killed. Policewoman Hadas Malka, a 23-year-old staff sergeant major, was taken to hospital in critical condition and later died of her wounds.

Jerusalem police chief Yoram Halevy identified the three attackers as Palestinians from the West Bank.

Israel's security services have reported IS-inspired attacks in the past and arrested those suspected of links to the jihadist group, but this is the first direct claim by IS on Israeli soil.

In its statement IS said the attack was "revenge for the religion of Allah and the sanctities of the violated Muslims".

"Let the Jews watch for the demise of their state at the hands of the soldiers of the Caliphate," the statement said.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abou Zouhri said the IS claim was an attempt to "muddy the waters", adding that the attack was carried out by "two Palestinians from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and a third from Hamas".

The killing was "a natural response to the crimes of the occupier," he said, echoing the language used by Hamas after other recent attacks in Israel.

- Ramadan activity -
Israel had eased restrictions on the entrance of Palestinians from the West Bank for Ramadan.

"During Ramadan there are large numbers of (Palestinian) youths who enter without permits, they take advantage of Ramadan to be in Jerusalem," Halevy told media at the scene of the attack.

The area around Damascus Gate was sealed off in the hours after the attack, with a few youths throwing fireworks at security forces.

A road leading to Damascus Gate full of stalls opened especially for Ramadan was closed off by police. A shopkeeper said this would normally be one of the busiest nights of the year.

Large numbers of heavily armed security forces were patrolling throughout the Old City, an AFP reporter said.

The Shin Bet internal security agency identified the three perpetrators as Braa Salah, born in 1998, Adel Ankush, born in 1999, and Asama Atta, born in 1998.

All three were from Deir Abu Mashal, a village near Ramallah, and had been arrested for or involved in "popular terror activity," a Shin Bet statement read.

The names differ from those reported by IS, who said the attack was carried out by brothers called Abu al-Bara'a al-Maqdisi, Abu Hassan al-Maqdisi, and Abu Rabah al-Maqdisi.

Medics said four people besides the officer were wounded in the incident, two of them moderately and two lightly. Two of those wounded were Palestinians from east Jerusalem.

A wave of unrest that broke out in October 2015 has claimed the lives of 272 Palestinians, 42 Israelis, two Americans, two Jordanians, an Eritrean, a Sudanese and a Briton, according to an AFP tally.

Israeli authorities say most of the Palestinians killed were carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks.

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