US Secretary of State John Kerry walks at the State Department in Washington October 2.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON -- The United States is "extremely concerned" by escalating tensions and increased violence across the holy city of Jerusalem, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday night, condemning the shooting of an American rabbi and the closure of a Muslim holy site.
"It is absolutely critical that all sides exercise restraint, refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric, and preserve the historic status quo on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount– in word and in practice," the secretary said. "The continued commitment by Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians to preserve the historic status quo at this holy site is critical; any decisions or actions to change it would be both provocative and dangerous."
The holy mountaintop site, including al Aksa mosque, was closed by Israeli authorities after the shooting of Yehuda Glick, a US citizen and a prominent advocate for Jewish prayer rights on the Temple Mount.
Islamic Jihad, an extremist Palestinian group, says the shooter of the right-wing rabbi was one of its members.
Kerry said he is in close touch with his Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian counterparts over the situation.
The site "must be re-opened to Muslim worshipers," he said.
Al Aksa is one of the holiest mosques in the entire Islamic world. Its closure marks the first time it has been inaccessible for prayer since 1967.
“A strategic decision was made to close it in order to prevent any incidents or disturbances from taking place there,” said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld of the contested holy site. “After security assessments were made Thursday afternoon, the decision was made to re-open the Temple Mount Friday morning.”
But amid ongoing rioting in east Jerusalem and chronic rioting known to take place on the Temple Mount itself after Friday prayers, Rosenfeld noted that age restriction will be enforced, barring any men under 50 years of age from entering. Women of all ages will be given passage, he said.
In response, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have called for violent resistance against the Israeli state.
Several other politically-charged murders in the city, including the killing of an American baby girl
from a vehicular attack, have contributed to rising tensions in recent days.
The Palestinian Authority's envoy to Washington, Ambassador Maen Areikat, warned on Thursday that Israeli extremists were "fueling a very dangerous religious conflict" with the closure of Haram al-Sharif.
"Unless this is stopped immediately, the region will pay a very high price for Israel's reckless policies," Areikat said.Dan Eisenbud contributed to this report from Jerusalem.