Palestinian militant group Hamas has praised the shooting attack in Jerusalem that left two police officers dead on Thursday night as a sign of a continuing "Intifada," or uprising, against Israel.
Three Palestinian men, armed with Carlo submachine guns and a handgun, fired toward police officers close to the Lion's Gate entrance to Jerusalem's Old City. Israeli police shot all three dead near the contested holy site known as the Temple Mount to Jews and the Haram al-Sharif to Muslims.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack but Hamas, the militant group that presides over the Gaza Strip, was on Friday quick to hail the assault.
Sami Abu Zouhri, spokesman for Hamas, said in a statement that “the Jerusalem operation is a natural response to Israeli terrorism and the desecration of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.” He said the attack proves “that the Intifada continues and our people are united behind the resistance.”
Hamas has fought three wars with Israel since 2008, and has claimed many attacks against Israelis in Jerusalem and other Israeli cities. It opposes Israel's military occupation of the West Bank and says it is fighting a struggle of liberation for a return to "historic Palestine," what it says was Palestinian land before the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.
Israel's government says the call is one that seeks the extermination of the Jewish people and what is widely considered by many in the country to be "the Jewish state." Almost twenty percent of Israel's population are Arabs who remained after Israel was created.
Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld confirmed to Newsweek that two officers died on Friday morning after suffering critical injuries in the attack. He said the attackers were all from the northern Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm, which has a predominantly Arab population.
The attackers were aged between 19 and 29 and authorities did not have prior indication that they were linked to militant activity.
Rosenfeld said that prayers at the site would not take place on Friday because of the shooting.
The attack comes after a wave of attacks by Palestinians against Israelis since October 2015, in which assailants have used knives, vehicles and guns to kill and maim civilians and soliders. Israel blames the Palestinian leadership for incitement to violence, the Palestinians hold Israel's military occupation responsible.
They also blamed what they said were Israeli attempts to change the status quo at the contested holy site, which Jews consider the holiest in their religion, and Muslims consider the third-holiest behind Mecca and Medina.
The site, which contains the Al-Aqsa Mosque, is controlled by a Jordanian-Palestinian waqf, or Islamic trust, in a policy that has remained since Israel captured the territory during the 1967 Six-Day War. Jews are not allowed to pray at the site because of its sensitivity.
Israel considers the entirety of Jerusalem to be its undivided capital but Palestinians seek East Jerusalem, where the holy site is situated, as the capital of any future sovereign state, as well as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Israeli authorities maintain security at the site and are investigating how the attack took place.