Israel to reopen Jerusalem holy site
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israeli authorities say they have decided to reopen a key Jerusalem holy site for Muslim worshippers on Friday.
Israel blocked access to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound on Thursday, after clashes erupted in the city following the killing of a Palestinian suspect wanted in the shooting of a hard-line Jewish activist. It was the first time Israel has closed the site since 2000.
In a statement, police said that Muslim men over the age of 50 and women of all ages could attend Friday's weekly prayers.
Palestinians had condemned the closure as a "declaration of war."
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Israeli authorities closed off all access to a sensitive Jerusalem holy site Thursday, after police killed a Palestinian man suspected of trying to assassinate a hard-line Jewish activist well known for his efforts to promote increased Jewish access to the site.
The decision to close access to the site - known to Jews as the Temple Mount, and Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary - underscores the incendiary nature of the religious element in the multi-faceted Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The last Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule began after then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the Jerusalem site in what many saw as a provocative gesture. That visit - in September 2000 - resulted in the closure of the site, the last time that happened.
In recent weeks Jerusalem has seen near-daily clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police, particularly around the holy site. Israeli and Palestinian leaders have traded accusations over alleged changes to testy status quo governing worship there.
Jerusalem violence reached a new high late Wednesday, after a gunman on a motorcycle shot and seriously wounded American-born activist Yehuda Glick outside a conference promoting greater Jewish access to the holy site. Glick often leads groups of Jews on visits to the site and has insisted that Jews be allowed to pray there - something that Israeli authorities currently ban because they fear it would prompt Muslim violence.
The gunman approached Glick and spoke to him in "heavy Arabic-accented Hebrew," according to Moshe Feiglin, a lawmaker with the Likud party. Once he confirmed Glick's identity, the man opened fire at point-blank range, shooting Glick three times before fleeing the scene.
Glick remained in hospital and in serious condition on Thursday.
In an interview earlier this week with The Associated Press, Glick warned of the growing violence in Jerusalem and said Jews were increasingly being attacked by Muslims.
"The more extreme Islamist organizations are taking over and if we don't stop them early enough, they will take over the entire Jerusalem," he said. "We're calling upon the Israeli government, stop the violence."
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police forces surrounded the suspect's home in east Jerusalem early Thursday. The suspect was holed up in a house in the Arab side of Abu Tor, a mixed neighborhood. He then opened fire and troops responded and killed the man, identified as Moataz Hijazi, an Islamic militant recently released from prison who worked at an adjacent restaurant.
Shortly after Hijazi was shot dead, clashes broke out in Abu Tor, with Palestinians hurling stones at the riot police, who responded with rubber bullets to suppress the demonstration. Residents gathered on rooftops, chanting pro-Palestinian slogans while police set up checkpoints to control access in and out of the neighborhood.
Israel accuses Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of inciting the recent violence. Abbas has recently called for Jews to be banned from the Jerusalem holy site and urged Palestinians to guard the compound from visiting Jews, who he called a "herd of cattle."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he has yet to hear a word of condemnation from the world against Abbas' incitement to violence.
"The international community must stop its hypocrisy and act against the inciters," Netanyahu said.
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon also reiterated accusations against Abbas Thursday.
"The assassination attempt on Yehuda Glick is another serious step in the Palestinian incitement against Jews and against the state of Israel," Yaalon said. "When Abu Mazen (Abbas) spreads lies and venom about the rights of Jews to worship in their land the result is terror, as we saw yesterday."
In a statement, Abbas did not condemn the shooting of Glick but lashed out at Israel for closing the volatile site, calling it a "declaration of war" against the Palestinians and the entire Arab and Muslim world.
"Jerusalem and its Muslim and Christian holy sites are a red line that must not be touched," he said. "This unprecedented decision is dangerous and challenging and will lead to further escalation and instability, and will create a dangerous and negative atmosphere."