Israel closes al-Aqsa to all visitors after the shooting of a right-wing rabbi

Israeli Occupation Forces on Thursday closed the al-Aqsa Mosque compound to all visitors after an overnight shooting incident in which a man on a motorbike tried to gun down an Israeli hardliner.

“This dangerous Israeli escalation is a declaration of war on the Palestinian people and its sacred places and on the Arab and Islamic nation,” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina quoted him as saying on Thursday.

“We hold the Israeli government responsible for this dangerous escalation in Jerusalem that has reached its peak through the closure of the al-Aqsa mosque this morning,” he told AFP.

“The state of Palestine will take all legal measures to hold Israel accountable and to stop these ongoing attacks,” he added.

Earlier on Thursday, Israeli forces killed a Palestinian man suspected of the shooting attack on the Israeli hardliner, a spokesman said.

“The Palestinian, who was the main suspect in the Wednesday night attack, was eliminated at his home in Jerusalem’s Abu Tor neighborhood by special police forces,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.

Abu Tor straddles the seam line between west Jerusalem and the occupied eastern sector, which was occupied by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War.

The suspect’s death took place just hours after a gunman on a motorcycle had opened fire at a right-wing Zionist Rabbi called Yehuda Glick at a rally in Jerusalem, leaving him critically wounded.

Glick was reportedly shot in his upper body at “close range” at an event outside the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, where a number of Israeli members of Knesset and right-wing activists were in attendance, Israeli news site Ynet said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday ordered a “significant increase” in police deployments in Jerusalem following the shooting.

“I have ordered a significant increase in forces as well as in means (available to them) so we can both ensure security in Jerusalem and also maintain the status quo in the holy places,” he said in a statement released by his office.

The attack was reported after a conference focused on the reconstruction of a Jewish temple on top of the al-Aqsa mosque was concluded at the center, with top right-wing Zionist officials and activists in attendance.

The incident comes amid increasing tension in Jerusalem over an expected Knesset vote to potentially divide the al-Aqsa mosque compound — the third-holiest site in Islam — between Muslims and Jews, or else restrict Muslim worship at the site.

The Israeli army radio announced early October that the ministry of tourism was working on a plan to allow Jews to enter the al-Aqsa compound through the Cotton Merchants Gate, in addition to the Moroccan Gate which is already used as an entrance for non-Muslims.

Although mainstream Jewish leaders consider it forbidden for Jews to enter the area, right-wing nationalist activists have increasingly called for Jewish prayer to be allowed on the site.

Since Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, an agreement with Jordan has maintained that Jewish prayer be allowed at the Western Wall plaza — built on the site of a Palestinian neighborhood of 800 that was destroyed immediately following the conquest — but not inside the al-Aqsa mosque compound itself.

Yehuda Glick is an American-born Israeli and the chairman of the Temple Mount Heritage Fund, a Zionist organization focused on “strengthening the relationship between Israel and the Temple Mount.”

Critics charge that the Fund actually leads Jewish tours to the site with the intention of leading Jewish prayer there — currently banned under Israeli agreements — and encouraging Jews to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque and build a Jewish temple there.

He has been previously banned by Israeli authorities from entering the compound due to provocations while on the site.

For Muslims, al-Aqsa represents the world’s third holiest site.

Al-Aqsa restrictions, violations

Israel continues to restrict the entry of Palestinian worshipers into al-Aqsa for the fifth week in a row.

In an urgent message to the US administration on Sunday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warned that Israel’s continued provocations at the mosque complex would lead to a “wide-reaching explosion.”

Israeli authorities have imposed restrictions on Palestinians seeking to enter the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, denying Muslim men under 40 access to the holy site while facilitating the entry of Zionist settlers of all ages.

In recent months, hundreds of extremist Zionist settlers – often accompanied by Israeli security forces – have repeatedly forced their way into East Jerusalem’s flashpoint al-Aqsa Mosque complex.

The frequent violations anger Palestinians who fear Zionist presence on the al-Aqsa is aimed at usurping the site.

Abbas said Saturday legal measures would be taken to prevent Zionist settlers from attacking Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

“The Palestinian leadership will be taking the necessary legal measures, at the international level, regarding the aggression of settlers on the Al-Aqsa mosque,” Abbas said in a speech to the Revolutionary Council of his Fatah party.

“We will not allow settlers to attack the mosque,” he added, referring to the entire compound, which is the third holiest site in Islam.

A Palestinian official last week called for holding an emergency Arab and Islamic summit to discuss Israeli plans to divide the al-Aqsa Mosque compound between Palestinians and Israelis.

“Israel is racing against time to legitimize storming of the al-Aqsa Mosque compound by herds of extremist settlers,” Ahmed Qurei, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said in a statement.

Earlier this month, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he was “deeply concerned by repeated provocations at the holy sites in Jerusalem,” saying that such actions “only inflame tensions and must stop.”

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s Hezbollah resistance movement condemned the “Israeli aggressions within the al-Aqsa Mosque compound” and slammed “Arab silence” and “international complicity.”

The resistance group called on “directing all efforts to protect al-Aqsa and the Islamic and Christian holy sites.”

Israel occupied East Jerusalem during the 1967 Middle East War. It later annexed the holy city in 1980, claiming it as the capital of the self-proclaimed Zionist state – a move never recognized by the international community.

In September 2000, a visit to the site by controversial Israeli leader Ariel Sharon sparked what later became known as the “Second Intifada” – a popular uprising against the Israeli occupation in which thousands of Palestinians were killed.

(Ma’an, AFP, Al-Akhbar)