JERUSALEM — In a sudden assault early Friday, three Arab citizens of Israel armed with guns and knives killed two Israeli police officers guarding an entrance to Jerusalem’s holiest site for Jews and Muslims, an emotional and volatile focal point of the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Police said the armed assailants had been spotted approaching the gateway from within the sacred compound in the Old City of Jerusalem that Jews revere as the Temple Mount and Muslims revere as the Noble Sanctuary.
Police officers pursued the assailants inside the compound and exchanged fire; all three assailants were killed.
Police identified the slain officers as Hayil Satawi, 30, from Maghar, an Arab town in northern Israel, and Kamil Shnaan, 22, from Hurfeish, also in the north. Israeli officials said both officers were members of the country’s small Druze community.
Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security service, identified the assailants as residents of Umm al-Fahm, a large Arab town in central Israel, near the border with the West Bank: Muhammad Ahmed Jabarin, 29; Muhammad Hamid Jabarin, 19; and Muhammad Ahmed Mufdal Jabarin, 19.
It was not immediately known if the three were related, but their names indicated that they belonged to the same large clan.
“We cannot allow for agents of murder, who desecrate the name of God, to drag us into a bloody war, and we will deal with a heavy hand against all the arms of terror, and its perpetrators,” President Reuven Rivlin of Israel said. “The state of Israel will defend its sovereignty and its citizens with a strong hand, and will not allow anyone to provoke the region into a bloody war.”
The police announced that they had evacuated and closed the compound, and helicopters circled above the area after the attack.
The closing of the holy site is an exceptional and potentially explosive measure; Israeli-imposed restrictions on Muslim entry to the compound have prompted spasms of rioting in Palestinian areas in the past.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the site will reopen gradually, after security evaluations Sunday. Jordan, a custodian of the sacred compound, called for its immediate reopening.
Previous Israeli measures taken in response to, or to prevent, violence at the site have strained Israel’s relations with Jordan, a neighbor and crucial ally that retains a special role in administering the site under the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty of 1994.
Apparently in an effort to calm the atmosphere, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, telephoned Netanyahu and strongly condemned the attack. But he also called on Netanyahu to reopen the holy site, according to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.
Netanyahu’s office said he had told Abbas that Israel would “take all the necessary actions to maintain security on the Temple Mount, without changing the status quo.”
The call came after Fatah, the mainstream Palestinian movement Abbas leads, called on Twitter and Facebook for Palestinians to turn out in large numbers to pray at Al Aqsa in defiance of the Israeli decision to close it.
‘Can be a liftout’
Keenly aware of the sensitivities, the Israeli police described Friday’s events as “extraordinary and extreme,” adding in a statement: “Shooting on the Temple Mount is a grave and delicate occurrence, with diplomatic and international significance, and it will be dealt with accordingly.” One of the assailants had tried to flee into a mosque at the site before being shot, police said.
The Old City is in East Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war and then annexed, a move that was never internationally recognized.
Police said the site would remain closed to worshippers until the investigation of Friday’s events was completed, and said searches were underway in the area.
In an apparent effort to head off more violence and criticism, the police emphasized that the measures did not signify a long-term change to the delicate status quo at the holy site.
They added that the assailants had been armed with two automatic weapons, a handgun and at least one knife, and said officers were making sure that other weapons were not being stored at the site.
The grand mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, was detained along with another cleric, according to local news reports. Earlier in the day, he told Maan, an independent Palestinian news site, that Israeli forces had prevented him from entering the Al-Aqsa compound at multiple entrances on Friday.
In Egypt on Friday, two German female tourists were stabbed to death while four other foreigners were wounded in an attack at a hotel in the Red Sea resort of Hurghada, an Egyptian security official said.
The assault came just hours after a shooting near some of Egypt’s most famous pyramids outside of Cairo killed five police officers.
The motive behind the stabbing was unclear and the Interior Ministry said the attacker at the Red Sea resort was arrested immediately.
A security official said the attacker, a man in his 20s dressed in a black T-shirt and jeans, wielded a knife and intentionally sought to attack foreigners.
‘‘Stay away, I don’t want Egyptians,’’ the assailant had said in Arabic during the attack, according to the official.
No group claimed responsibility for the killings of the five police outside of Cairo, but the attack bore the hallmarks of a smaller Islamic militant group known as Hasm that has been behind similar shootings in recent months.