JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israeli police Thursday shot dead a Palestinian suspected of an assassination attempt on a hardline campaigner for Jewish prayer rights at Jerusalem’s flashpoint al-Aqsa mosque compound.
The attack sent tensions in the city soaring to a new high, following months of almost daily clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police in Jerusalem’s occupied eastern sector.
In a bid to avoid further tensions, Israel ordered the closure of the al-Aqsa compound to all visitors in an unprecedented move, drawing a furious response from Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, who described it as “a declaration of war”.
“This dangerous Israeli escalation is a declaration of war on the Palestinian people and its sacred places and on the Arab and Islamic nation,” he said through his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina, warning it would only fuel “more tension and instability”.
Israeli police announced the closure of the compound several hours after a gunman opened fire on Yehuda Glick, leaving him critically wounded.
Anti-terror police stormed the home of the suspected Palestinian gunman in Abu Tor, which borders the volatile east Jerusalem district of Silwan that has been the focus of months of confrontations between Palestinian youths and police.
“When they arrived at his house, the suspect began shooting at the force who returned fire, killing him,” police spokeswoman Luba Samri said in a statement.
Police and border police forces were fanning out across the city to prevent any unrest, the statement said.
The assassination attempt appeared to be linked to months of tensions over the al-Aqsa compound, a site holy to both Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem’s Old City.
The compound houses Islam’s third holiest site, but is also the most sacred spot for Jews who refer to the site as the Temple Mount due to the fact it once housed two Jewish temples.
Although non-Muslims are allowed to visit the site, Jews are not allowed to pray there for fear it could disturb the fragile status quo.
Locals residents identified the dead suspect as Muataz Hijazi, and the radicals confirmed he was one of their members.
The neighbourhood where he was killed, Abu Tor, straddles west Jerusalem and the Arab eastern sector, which was seized by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed in a move never recognised internationally.
An AFP correspondent at the scene said shots rang out shortly before 6am and around 20 armed police could be seen converging on a house as a police helicopter flew overhead.
Shortly afterwards, local youths began throwing stones at the force and dragged a rubbish skip into the middle of the road as police fired back sporadically with rubber bullets and tear gas.