Israel closes al-Aqsa mosque to worshipers in rare move
RAMALLAH - Israel's closure of the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound to all visitors following the shooting of a Jewish hardliner is tantamount to a "declaration of war," Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said Thursday.
"This dangerous Israeli escalation is a declaration of war on the Palestinian people and its sacred places and on the Arab and Islamic nation," his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina quoted him as saying.
"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 said.
The compound houses Islam's third holiest site, but is also the most sacred spot for Jews who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it once housed two Jewish temples.
Although non-Muslims can visit the site, Jews are not allowed to pray there for fear it could disturb the fragile status quo.
"This decision is a dangerous act and a blatant challenge that will lead to more tension and instability and will create a negative and dangerous atmosphere," he said.
"The state of Palestine will take all legal measures to hold Israel accountable and to stop these ongoing attacks."
Israel ordered the compound closed to all visitors, both Jewish and Muslim, early on Thursday after an overnight shooting incident in which a man on a motorbike tried to gun down an ultranationalist Jewish activist who has long worked to secure Jewish prayer rights at the Al-Aqsa plaza.
Several hours later, police stormed the house of the suspected Palestinian gunman, sparking a gunfight in which he was killed.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also ordered a "significant increase" in police deployments.
"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.
Arab east Jerusalem, which was seized by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed in a move never recognised internationally, has been wracked by violence since early July, with clashes erupting between stonethrowers and police on an almost daily basis.