Tensions rise in Jerusalem as Israel closes disputed holy site

Israel has closed a contested Muslim-Jewish holy site in Jerusalem following the shooting of a Jewish ultranationalist. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has condemned the move as a “declaration of war.”

Shooting sparks clashes in Jerusalem

“We hold the Israeli government responsible for the dangerous escalation in the occupied city of Jerusalem, which reached a peak with the closure of al-Aqsa Mosque this morning,” a spokesman for Abbas, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said on Thursday.

He added that the Palestinian Authority was considering taking legal action and that the closure was “tantamount to a declaration of war” on the Palestinian people, warning it could fuel “more tension and instability.”

Israel on Thursday took the unusual step of closing Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound to all visitors amid concerns over a rapid escalation of violence in the city. It’s the first time such a measure has been taken since Israel seized East Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War.

Just hours after the closure was announced, Israeli police
shot and killed a Palestinian man suspected of attempting to assassinate Yehuda Glick, a hardline advocate for expanded Jewish prayer rights at the Old City’s holy compound. The incident
sparked intense clashes between police and Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem which has seen almost daily unrest, particularly around the disputed holy site.

The compound houses Islam’s third holiest site, known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary, but is also the most sacred shrine for Jews who refer to it as the Temple Mount.

Jews normally pray at the Western Wall situated below the platform on which the al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques stand. But Glick had encouraged Jews to also pray on the plateau itself, angering Muslims.

Controversial shrine

Following the attempt on Glick’s life, far-right groups responded with outrage, calling on their supporters to march on al-Aqsa. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday urged for calm on both sides and said the closure of al-Aqsa was only temporary.

“I have ordered a significant increase in forces … so we can both ensure security in Jerusalem and also maintain the status quo in the holy places,” he said in a statement. “We must first of all lower the flames. No side should take the law into its own hands.”

US-born Glick, a rabbi and member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, was
shot by a man late Wednesday outside a conference promoting greater Jewish access to the al-Aqsa compound. He suffered three bullet wounds and is currently in a serious condition in hospital.

Early Thursday, counter-terrorism police swooped on a house in the Abu Tor neighborhood, where the suspect opened fire on them. They shot back and killed the man, who has been identified as 32-year-old Moataz Hejazi.

Militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad mourned Hejazi’s death but praised the attack on Glick.

Palestinian anger has been fueled in the past weeks by Jewish settlers
moving into largely Arab neighborhoods, and an increase in the number of visits to the sacred Old City compound by Orthodox Jews, including some politicians.

There have long been tensions on the eastern side of Jerusalem, but violence erupted in earnest when Israel launched a 50-day offensive on the Gaza Strip over summer.

nm/sb (dpa, Reuters, AFP, AP)


Israeli Likud activist Yehuda Glick shot in Jerusalem

A right-wing activist has been shot in Jerusalem. Rabbi Yehuda Glick was leaving a conference to promote Jewish prayer at a flashpoint Old City compound holy to Muslims.

A man fled on motorcycle after shooting Yehuda Glick Wednesday outside the Menachem Begin Heritage Center. The US-born activist, a member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, remains in serious but stable condition, undergoing surgery for wounds in the chest and abdomen. The Likud lawmaker Moshe Feiglin said a man had spoken to Glick, a settler, in accented Hebrew as he exited the “Israel Returns to the Temple Mount” conference.

“This is a very serious incident,” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said Wednesday. “We will hold those responsible fully accountable.” Barkat urged Israelis “not to take the law into your own hands.”

The compound at the heart of Glick’s cause ranks as Islam’s third-most-sacred site and Judaism’s holiest, where two ancient Jewish temples once stood. It contains the eighth century al-Aqsa mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock, from where Muslims believe their Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.

Months of conflict

Jordanian religious authorities administer the Old City compound, but Israeli police secure it. The country annexed parts of Jerusalem after the 1967 war in a move not recognized internationally. Non-Muslims may visit the site under close monitoring but may not pray there, a prohibition at the heart of the tensions. Glick encourages Jews to pray not just in designated areas near the Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques, but on the plateau itself.

Tension has risen steadily in Jerusalem since just before a
war Israel launched on Gaza that ended in August, with almost nightly clashes between security forces and protesters. In the past few weeks,
settlers have expanded their presence in the largely ethnically Arab neighborhoods that many had believed would form the capital of a future Palestinian state –
with Israel promising more – and Orthodox Jews, including some politicians,
increasingly visiting the compound, accompanied by Israeli police.

Seeking to avert further friction, police have taken the exceedingly rare step of shutting the flashpoint holy site to all worshippers and visitors until further notice, after far-right Israeli activists urged adherents to respond to the shooting by heading en masse to the site on Thursday. Netanyahu has promised that the “status quo” governing Jerusalem’s holiest site would not change despite the lobbying of his political allies to enable Jewish worship there.

mkg/av (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)


Police shoot dead Palestinian suspected of trying to kill far-right Israeli activist

Israeli police have killed a Palestinian man suspected of having tried to kill a far-right Jewish activist in Jerusalem. The attack has fueled fears of further violence amid heightened Jewish-Arab tensions in the city.

Israeli counter-terrorism police on Thursday shot dead a Palestinian suspected of trying to
assassinate a far-right Jewish activist in Jerusalem just hours earlier.

“Anti-terrorist police units surrounded a house in the Abu Tor neigborhood to arrest a suspect in the attempted assassination of Yehuda Glick, immediately upon arrival they were shot at. They returned fire and shot and killed the suspect,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

The dead man was identified by an official website of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas as 32-year-old Moataz Hejazi.

Hejazi had spent 11 years in an Israeli prison, and was released in 2012.

His death came just hours after a man on a motorbike shot and severely wounded Jewish activist Yehuda Glick in Jerusalem as Glick left a conference promoting a Jewish campaign to permit praying at a compound in the Old City that has become a focus of contention between Jews and Muslims.

Flashpoint compound

The site, known as Noble Sanctuary to Muslims and Temple Mount to Jews (seen in picture above with Glick), is the third-most sacred site in Islam and the holiest in Judaism.

The US-born Glick, a rabbi and member of the Likud party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, supports a campaign encouraging Jews to pray outside of specially designated areas, something which would provoke Muslim anger.

Jews normally pray at the Western Wall situated below the platform on which the al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques stand.

Tensions on the eastern side of Jerusalem have been on the rise since before an
Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip in summer. Palestinian anger has been fueled in the past weeks by
Jewish settlers moving into largely Arab neighborhoods, and an increase in the number of visits to the sacred Old City compound by Orthodox Jews, includng some politicians.

In light of the increasing unrest, police have raised their alert all over the country to level three – one level under that of the highest emergency.

tj/nm (Reuters, dpa)