Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the closure of the Temple Mount to all visitors on Thursday a “declaration of war,” as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for calm and civility in Jerusalem following the attempted assassination of Yehudah Glick Wednesday night.
The PA chief pinned the blame for the “dangerous” escalation in violence on the Israeli government, saying the peak was this morning, when the Jerusalem leadership decided to close the holy site to all visitors.
This, he said, was a straightout “declaration of war,” not only on the Palestinian people and their sacred sites but on the entire Arab and Islamic nation.
“Jerusalem and Islamic and Christian holy sites are a redline and we won’t accept any harm to them,” he said.
“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 reopen the Temple Mount Friday morning.”
However, amid ongoing rioting in east Jerusalem and chronic rioting known to take place on the Temple Mount itself after Friday prayers, Rosenfeld noted that strict age restriction will be enforced, barring any men under 50, from entering. Women of all ages will be given passage, he said.
Throughout the day Thursday, security forces faced crowds of rock throwers in east Jerusalem neighborhoods. On Thursday night, incidents of rock throwing were reported in French Hill, Pisgat Ze’ev and Armon Hanatziv, where a woman was lightly wounded after being hit by a rock thrown at the bus she was traveling on.
Rosenfeld said numerous disturbances were reported in southeastern Jerusalem’s Abu Tor, where convicted terrorist Moataz Hejazi, 32, an Islamic Jihad member allegedly responsible for the shooting of Glick, was killed during a shootout with police outside his home during the early morning hours.
Additionally, an Arab man was arrested in the Arab Quarter of the Old City Thursday afternoon after launching fireworks at police officers patrolling the area, Rosenfeld said. No injuries were reported.
“Police have added a wide range of units and are continuing to implement security measures in Jerusalem, which will continue for as long as it takes for the situation on the ground to gradually become less tense,” he said.
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, spokesman for the PA presidency, quoted Abbas as saying: “We hold the Israeli government responsible for the dangerous escalation in occupied Jerusalem, which reached its peak with the closure of the Aksa Mosque on Thursday morning.”
Abbas warned that the decision would “lead to more tensions and instability and create a negative and dangerous atmosphere.”
Police said Thursday afternoon that they would reopen the Temple Mount to visitors on Friday, despite calls from Fatah to hold a “day of rage” on Friday in protest.
In a leaflet issued in Ramallah, the faction called on Palestinians to express their opposition to “Israeli assaults” on the Aksa Mosque.
Fatah also denounced the Israeli move as a “declaration of a religious war” on the Palestinians and all Arabs and Muslims. The leaflet urged Palestinians to defend the Aksa Mosque “regardless of the sacrifices and to prevent the occupation forces from carrying out their plans to Judaize Jerusalem and our holy symbols.”
Israel Police Insp.-Gen. Yohanan Danino said police have no intention for the closure to become permanent, and that the decision to close it on Thursday was an extraordinary decision made following a very exceptional event. It was the first time the Temple Mount has been closed to visitors since 2000, when the Wakf closed the site in protest after Ariel Sharon’s visit.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, held yet another high-level consultation on the volatile situation in Jerusalem, and called out the international community for not condemning the “wave of incitement by radical Islamists and also by Abbas, who said Jews must be prevented through all ways possible from going up to the Temple Mount.
“I still haven’t heard any condemnation of these provocations... The international community needs to stop its hypocrisy and act against those who provoke the situation, those who want to change the status quo,” he said.
Netanyahu said the government was preparing for increased tensions in the holy city.
“I have ordered a major increase in presence of forces... so that we can maintain a safe Jerusalem and also keep the status quo at holy sites.”
Netanyahu added that the struggle in Jerusalem may be “long and drawn out, but here, like in all the other struggles, we need to put out the flames. Neither side needs to take the law into their hands, we need to act calmly, responsibly and decisively.”
Hamas and Islamic Jihad on Thursday called on Palestinians to step up their “resistance” against Israel following the assassination attempt on the life of Yehudah Glick and the temporary closure of the Temple Mount.
Hamas called for a “day of mobilization” on Friday in protest against the closure of the Temple Mount.
It also called on Palestinians to avenge the killing of Hejazi and other Palestinians killed by the IDF and police.
The movement called for demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Friday.
Hamas’s armed wing, Izzadin Kassam, welcomed the shooting of Glick and said that Jerusalem will be the trigger for “the battle of liberation.”
Abu Obaida, spokesman for Izzadin Kassam, said in a statement: “We salute the sacred hands that pulled the trigger of dignity and fired the bullets of revenge toward the Zionist criminal who desecrated the blessed Aksa Mosque.”
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Thursday Israel “must reopen” the Temple Mount to Muslim worshipers. The US is “extremely concerned with escalating tensions across Jerusalem,” Psaki noted. It is “absolutely critical” the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority do everything in their power to quell violence in Jerusalem, she added.
The PLO’s envoy to Washington, Maen Areikat, warned that Israeli extremists were “fueling a very dangerous religious conflict.”
“Unless this is stopped immediately, the region will pay a very high price for Israel’s reckless policies,” Areikat said.
PA official Jibril Rajoub, when asked at a meeting with diplomatic reporters whether he condemned the assassination attempt against Glick, said the Palestinians have no responsibility for what is happening in Jerusalem.
“I don’t condemn. I don’t want to see anyone killed,” he said. “Look at the other side, how much suffering there is.”
Asked why Jews should not be allowed to pray at the site, Rajoub said that the status quo in place since 1967 should be respected.
Israeli officials reiterated that the government had no intention of changing the status quo, and would oppose any attempts to do so. One official said that it was the Palestinians who were trying to change the status quo, and preventing Jews from visiting the site.
The official said that the decision to close the site temporarily to all visitors was an attempt to cool down passions.
“Our assessment was that the danger of keeping the site open was greater than the danger of closing it, and that a cooling-off period was needed,” he said.
Jordan’s Islamic affairs minister, Hayel Daoud, condemned Israel’s decision to close the Temple Mount and prevent Muslims from entering on Thursday, calling it “state terrorism” and a “severe escalation,” Jordan News Agency, Petra reported.
Daoud said that the decision to close the holy site could not be accepted based on any security related excuse.
The Jordanian official also called on the international community and the Muslim world to put pressure on the Israeli government to lift “the terrorist siege imposed on al-Aksa.”
Israeli plans to build in Jerusalem along with Palestinian concerns about Jerusalem’s holy sites prompted the Palestinians to ask Jordan to request an emergency UN Security Council meeting, in the hope that its 15 members would condemn recent Israeli actions.
Diplomats said the council was unlikely to take any action.
During an emergency meeting of the UNSC, Jordan’s Deputy UN Ambassador Mahmoud Hmoud said the world must turn its attention to the “illegal” Israeli policies that are “threatening” Jerusalem, Petra reported.
Jordan would continue to defend Jerusalem and its holy sites, he added.
Hmoud called on Israel to stop its “deadly provocations” at the Temple Mount.