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Gunman told Ma'an of plans to turn himself in, one day before deadly attack

Oct. 9, 2016 2:02 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 10, 2016 1:53 P.M.)
39-year-old Misbah Abu Sbeih from Silwan
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- The slain gunman responsible for a shooting attack in occupied East Jerusalem Sunday morning that left two Israelis killed and several injured told Ma'an the day before the shooting that he was planning on turning himself in to Israeli authorities to serve a prison sentence for prior charges.

Misbah Abu Sbeih, 39, from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, who also lived in the village of al-Ram, told Ma'an via telephone Saturday that he had decided to turn himself into the Israeli Ramla prison at 10 a.m. on Sunday to serve a four-month prison sentence for allegedly assaulting an Israeli police officer.

He said he was detained from the Bab Hutta area in the Old City outside of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in 2013 after being accused of the assault, but was released the same day.

According to Abu Sbeih, the case was closed, and he later traveled to Saudi Arabia to perform the Umrah pilgrimage.

However, the case against him was unexpectedly reopened in December 2015, shortly after he was released for spending about a year in prison on separate charges of “incitement” for Facebook posts.

Among the posts he was imprisoned for were: "We sacrifice our souls and our blood for you Al-Aqsa," and, "we sacrifice our children for Al-Aqsa."

Last month, following his release, the Jerusalem Magistrate's court ordered that he turn himself in by mid-October after sentencing him to four months in prison for the alleged 2013 assault.

However, after being threatened by Israeli authorities that they would place him in administrative detention -- internment without trial or charge -- if he didn’t turn himself in immediately, he had said he had decided to turn himself in on Sunday morning, before ultimately being killed while carrying out the deadly shooting attack.

Abu Sbeih had said Saturday that the decision to turn himself in came after being repeatedly harassed by Israeli police, as he was detained five times over the past two weeks, in some cases for a period of days, sometimes for hours.

On Oct. 2, he was banned from the whole of East Jerusalem for a month, after he had already been banned from entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque for six months. In July, he was also issued a travel ban until the end of the year.

According to sources in East Jerusalem, Abu Sbeih was a prominent local activist and known to some as “The Lion of Jerusalem,” for being on the “front lines” in “defending” the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Old City.

"Ahead of Jewish holidays, the Israeli occupation applies a well-known policy, but this time they took it too far,” Abu Sbieh told Ma’an, referring to heightened security measures imposed by Israeli forces in occupied East Jerusalem amid the Jewish high holiday season.

Last week, Israeli police detained 15 Palestinians in East Jerusalem on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. Israeli police have maintained a heavy presence in the area since, as the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur begins on Tuesday.

"Jerusalem is under a serious threat of ‘Judaization’ and is under an unprecedented attack by the Israeli authorities,” he said in the phone interview.

Abu Sbeih wrote in his last Facebook post of the Al-Aqsa Mosque: "How I yearn for my love and wish it would be the last thing I see, to kiss and kneel on its soil and pray!

“They gave me four months in prison because I love you (Al-Aqsa), but I replied, ‘That is nothing. I am prepared to give up my life and all of my money for you.’

“Though I can’t enter Al-Aqsa, my soul, my heart, and my eyes will never forget you.”

Abu Sbeih had served a total of 39 months in Israeli custody.

Tensions around occupied East Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound were a main contributor to a wave of unrest that began last October, after right-wing Israelis made frequent visits to the site during the Jewish holiday season this time last year.

The 39-year-old gunman was the 232nd Palestinian to be killed by Israelis amid the violence, while 34 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians.

The violence has mostly been characterized by small-scale attacks with knives or similar weapons, however, a number of attempted and actual shooting attacks have targeted Israelis over the past year.

A total of 17 Palestinians have been killed while committing shooting attacks, while 16 Israelis have been killed by Palestinian gunmen.

Meanwhile, 19 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis and four Israelis have been killed by Palestinians in alleged and actual attacks at East Jerusalem’s Old City.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz cited Palestinian sources as saying Abu Sbeih was a member of the Murabitun, a Palestinian Muslim group active at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound who demonstrate against what they see as increasing Israeli control over the holy site.

The Murabitun was banned by Israeli authorities in September 2015 for its alleged role in inciting violence and tension in the Al-Aqsa compound.

However, the group has claimed they are defending the mosque from Israeli extremists, who regularly enter the compound protected by armed guards, and incite against Palestinians.

The third holiest site in Islam, Al-Aqsa is also venerated as Judaism’s most holy place, as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood.

Mainstream Jewish law forbids present-day entry to the compound; however, right-wing Israelis gaining ground in the current Israeli government have stoked fears in Palestinians since calling for the destruction of the mosque to make room for a Third Temple.
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