Middle East

Jerusalem holy site closure 'declaration of war' - Abbas

Israeli security forces stand behind a security perimeter outside the Menachem Begin Heritage Centre (29 October 2014) Image copyright AFP
Image caption A security clampdown was initiated in the aftermath of the shooting

A spokesman for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has described the closure of a disputed Jerusalem holy site as a "declaration of war".

The move came amid tension and violence after the shooting of a Jewish activist. Israel's PM urged calm, saying Mr Abbas was stoking unrest.

The holy site will reopen on Friday, Israel's economy minister says.

Yehuda Glick, a campaigner for greater Jewish prayer rights at the Temple Mount/al-Haram al-Sharif, was wounded.

Israeli police later killed a Palestinian suspected of shooting him. Moataz Hejazi, 32, was shot after reportedly opening fire when police surrounded his home.

Rabbi Glick is a well-known US-born campaigner for the right of Jews to pray at the site, which is currently prohibited.

The compound - known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif - is the holiest site in Judaism, and contains the al-Aqsa Mosque - the third holiest site in Islam.

In other developments

  • Sweden became the first major Western European country to officially recognise Palestine as a state - Israel has recalled its ambassador to Sweden in response, according to an official quoted by AFP
  • The UN Human Rights Committee urged Israel to halt settlement-building in the West Bank and investigate alleged violations committed by its military in Gaza since 2008
  • US Secretary of State John Kerry described alleged insults which a senior US official aimed at Mr Netanyahu as "disgraceful, unacceptable and damaging"
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Palestinians clashed with police as they tried to arrest the shooting suspect
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Several Jewish protesters were arrested outside the compound
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Rabbi Glick was photographed attending a conference shortly before the shooting

'Dangerous escalation'

Angry crowds gathered in Arab East Jerusalem near Hejazi's home as news spread that he had been shot.

Police used tear gas and rubber bullets against stone-throwing youths.

Analysis: BBC's Kevin Connolly in Jerusalem

A delicate status quo governs rights of access to al-Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Israel captured the Old City in 1967 but swiftly handed control of the compound back to the Islamic religious authorities, fearful of triggering a Holy War. Israel's security forces do impose restrictions - banning men under the age of 50 from worshipping on occasion - but argue that is about maintaining order.

Jews are allowed to visit the site but not to pray there. Now some right-wing religious groups say Jews should be allowed to pray - a demand which causes anger and unease in the Muslim world.

If it all sounds familiar, well that is because it is. When Britain governed the Holy Land in 1929 a very similar dispute provoked rioting that led to widespread loss of life - a proper resolution of it all still feels hopelessly distant.

There was also a small demonstration by far-right Israelis outside the holy site, with several arrested for attempting to enter it.

Palestinians hold the Israeli government responsible for a "dangerous act", Mr Abbas was quoted as saying by spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina, AFP reports.

Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett told the BBC on Thursday that the holy site would reopen in time for Friday prayers "unless there are unusual events that take place over the next few hours".

Jerusalem's holiest site

  • Known as the Temple Mount to Jews and al-Haram al-Sharif to Muslims, it comprises the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, and is next to the Western Wall
  • The Western Wall, from the time of the Jewish Biblical temples, is the holiest site where Jews can pray; the Dome of the Rock, where according to Jewish tradition the Ark of the Covenant rested in the first temple, is the holiest site in Judaism
  • The al-Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site in Islam; the Dome of the Rock is revered by Muslims because of its connections to the Prophet Muhammad
  • Christians also venerate the site because of its Biblical links to Jesus
  • A Muslim committee has managed the compound since the time of the Crusades, while Israel, which has occupied East Jerusalem since 1967, controls access
  • Israel maintains a ban on prayer by non-Muslims at the compound as a security measure
  • Rabbi Yehuda Glick campaigns for allowing Jews to pray at the site

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for calm, suggesting Mr Abbas is responsible for the increasing tension.

"We're facing a wave of incitement by radical Islamic elements as well as by the Palestinian Authority chairman... who said that Jews must absolutely be prevented from going on to the Temple Mount," he said, quoted by Haaretz newspaper.

Some districts of East Jerusalem have seen nightly clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces since the Gaza conflict last summer.

A Jewish baby and Ecuadorian woman were killed when a Palestinian attacker drove his car into a group of pedestrians in Jerusalem last week.

Media captionMicky Rosenfeld, Israeli police spokesman: ''There was an attempted assassination on a known right-wing activist''

Police say Hejazi belonged to the Islamic Jihad militant group and served time in jail in Israel before being released in 2012.

Police say they were fired at after surrounding a house where he was staying and they shot back, hitting the suspect.

Rabbi Glick has undergone surgery for gunshot wounds to his chest and abdomen.

Israel argues that it protects freedom of worship at the site but Palestinians claim it is unilaterally taking steps to allow larger numbers of Jewish visitors.