Israeli authorities cut off access to a contested Jerusalem holy site on Thursday, in what a spokesperson for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas called a “declaration of war.” The landmark, commonly known as the Temple Mount, is considered holy by both Jews and Muslims, and the closing comes after an attempted assasination of a far-right Jewish leader campaigning for more Jewish access to the site.
American-born Yehuda Glick was shot Wednesday in the latest of many violent incidents in Jerusalem. Despite a ceasefire reached after this summer’s 50-day war in Gaza, relations between Israel and Palestinians have remained volatile as a long-term resolution seems to be slipping further and further out of reach.
Glick is linked to a group that wants to build a Jewish temple on the ground where Muslim mosques now stand. (Jews are allowed to visit the area, albeit through a special entrance for Jews and tourists. Government forces, however, prohibit Jewish prayer at the site because of safety concerns.) Glick was shot at close range and rushed to the hospital, while authorities tracked down and fatally shot his attacker.
“Anti-terrorist police units surrounded a house in the Abu Tor neighborhood 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,” explained police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. The suspect was identified as Moataz Hejazi.
In response to the incident and ongoing protests, Israel shut off access to the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, for everyone. This is supposedly the first complete closure since the second Intifada. A spokesman for Abbas, the Palestinian leader, said the closure would “add to the tensions and instability and create a dangerous atmosphere.”
Before the closing of the Temple Mount, Abbas appeared on an Israeli TV channel and distanced himself from calls for a third Intifada. “We do not want an intifada. We are not calling for an intifada,” Abbas said. “I told the people ‘These are our holy places and we want to keep them quiet.’”