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Israeli forces shoot, kill Jordanian man in Jerusalem's Old City over knife attack

May 13, 2017 1:57 P.M. (Updated: May 15, 2017 8:20 P.M.)
The scene of an stabbing attack in the Old City of Jerusalem on March 8, 2016. (Photo from Israeli police)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli forces shot and killed a 57-year-old Jordanian man of Palestinian origin in occupied East Jerusalem's Old City on Saturday after he stabbed and injured a police officer. Witnesses said an Israeli security guard at the scene also shot the attacker in the head, while backup police who arrived later slammed a table over the incapacitated man.

In the wake of the incident, Israeli police assaulted local Palestinians in the area, witnesses told Ma'an. A shop owner was detained for failing to help prevent the attack, according to Israeli police.

The Israeli police officer was reported to have sustained moderate wounds and was transferred to the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem for treatment, according to Israeli police spokeswoman Luba al-Samri, who identified the hurt policeman as a 37-year-old resident of northern Israel.

Israel police identified the slain man as a 57-year-old Jordanian citizen who had arrived in the country a week ago on a tourist visa, after initially reporting him to be a Palestinian. Local media said that the Jordanian national, Muhammad al-Skaji, was of Palestinian origin and from the occupied West Bank city of Jericho.

An initial statement in Arabic from al-Samri said that Israeli forces had “neutralized a Palestinian attacker" and “immediately pronounced him dead on the spot.”

She wrote that the man quickly approached a policeman, pulled out a knife, and stabbed the officer. The wounded policeman then pulled out his handgun and shot the the attacker multiple times, killing him immediately, al-Samri said, adding that Israeli police found two knives on the slain man's body.

In an updated statement, al-Samri said two passersby had also been involved in the confrontation between the Israeli police officer and the assailant.

According to al-Samri, the Israeli police officer clashed with the assailant and managed to push him back before two Haredi Jewish passersby tried to help the police officer. "However, the attacker continued to attack the injured officer with the knife in his hand, until the officer pulled out his handgun and neutralized the attacker," al-Samri wrote. Israeli daily Haaretz reported that a second man at the scene received a light wound to his arm.

An eyewitness and local shop owner corroborated to Ma'an that he saw an assailant wearing a black coat stab the Israeli policeman multiple times in the neck and face.

Surveillance camera footage later released by Israeli police showed the first moments of the attack, in which a man dressed in black can be seen throwing himself at a policeman while swinging a knife, tackling him to the ground.

A passerby by in a white tank top and black jogging pants seems to make a brief attempt to intervene as other bystanders move away, with the footage cutting off while the policeman continues struggle to overcome the attacker. The video appears to cut off before anyone opens fire on the assailant.

“The injured officer then fired heavily at the stabber and after he fell to the ground, a security guard escorting a group of settlers fired a bullet at the attacker's head," the Palestinian witnesses, who asked to remain anonymous, said.

Backup police officers then arrived and one of them "hit the attacker with a plastic table while he was lying motionless on the ground,” according to the same witness.

He added that while Israeli medics arrived within minutes and treated the injured police officer, the "attacker was left on the ground for 45 minutes without any medics coming near to him," until the slain man was finally wrapped in a plastic bag and evacuated from the site.

Palestinian shop owners in the Old City told Ma'an that immediately after incident, Israeli forces stormed their shops, forcibly removed their customers, and forced them to shut down.

"Israeli occupation forces didn’t even give us the time to turn off the lights," one shop owner said, while another said he was not allowed to shut off the small gas cooker he uses to make coffee.

Witnesses also said that Israeli forces detained four young Palestinian men in the area after beating them violently. A mobile juice stand was also shut down.

According to al-Samri, the owner of the kiosk, a Palestinian Jerusalemite, was detained for allegedly failing to help thwart the attack.

"He saw from the beginning that an attack was about to happen, but did not lift single finger to try and prevent it from happening. He even tried to prevent a citizen from helping the police officer while he was fighting with the attacker," she said in a written statement.

When asked to clarify at what point the vendor tried to prevent another bystander from coming to the policeman’s aid -- as the released footage did not appear to depict such an altercation -- al-Samri said investigations were still ongoing.

According to Haaretz, Israeli police were investigating whether the attack may have been driven by a personal grievance or a mental issue, and that police also raided the hotel where al-Skaji had been staying and detained one of the trip organizers.

Last September, Israeli forces shot and killed a Jordanian national after he allegedly attempted to carry out at an knife attack at Damascus Gate in the Old City.

Meanwhile, 21 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis since the beginning of the year, most of them shot while allegedly or actually committing attacks -- with four such incidents having occurred in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Last week, Israeli forces shot and killed 16-year-old Fatima Hjeiji outside of Jerusalem’s Old City, after she allegedly tried to stab border police officers stationed near Damascus Gate.

An eyewitness told Ma’an that Hjeiji had been standing more than ten meters away from a group of Israeli border guard soldiers before she was killed, and an investigation conducted by Israeli NGO B’Tselem also concluded that the Palestinian girl did not constitute a threat to Israeli forces when she was shot, saying the killing marked yet another example of Israel's shoot-to-kill policy against Palestinians.

“The continued policy of fatally shooting Palestinians who do not pose a mortal danger illustrates the manifest discrepancy between the recognized and accepted principle that prohibits such use of gunfire, and a reality in which shoot-to-kill incidents are a frequent occurrence and are encouraged by senior officials and wide public support,” B’Tselem wrote in its report.

Similar to Saturday’s incident, in the wake off Hjeiji's killing, Israeli forces cracked down on locals in the area, using pepper spray on Palestinians, while a nine-year-old child was hurt after he was chased by Israeli police officers on horseback.

Israeli police spokeswoman Luba al-Samri said that Saturday's incident marked the fifth attack in the Old City over the past month, which she said were all “individually motivated and some of the attackers were suffering from psychological disorders. In most cases the attackers were neutralized.” Israeli police ambiguously use the term “neutralize” to indicate that an alleged attacker has either been apprehended, shot and wounded, or fatally shot.

Israeli authorities and media outlets have also claimed in a number of cases that Palestinians were shot after they intentionally provoked Israeli forces at military checkpoints in order to commit suicide, after a pattern of extrajudicial executions of Palestinians by Israeli forces emerged over a wave of violence that peaked in the fall of 2015.

“Suicide by cop” is also a well-known and researched phenomenon in the United States, where police, like Israeli forces, are routinely denounced for excessive use of lethal force on civilians with impunity.
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