Israeli police on Thursday shot and killed a Palestinian man suspected of trying to kill a hard-line Jewish activist in Jerusalem, an incident that quickly sparked clashes between masked stone throwers and Israeli riot police and threatened to further inflame the already high tensions in the city.
Jerusalem has seen near-daily clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police, particularly around a contested site in the Old City that is holy to both Jews and Muslims. Israeli and Palestinian leaders have traded accusations over alleged changes to testy status quo governing worship at the site.
Violence reached a new high late Wednesday, after a gunman on a motorcycle shot and seriously wounded American-born activist Yehuda Glick outside a conference promoting greater Jewish access to the hilltop compound known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.
The gunman approached Glick and spoke to him in "heavy Arabic-accented Hebrew," according to Moshe Feiglin, a lawmaker with the Likud party. Once he confirmed Glick's identity, the man opened fire at point-blank range, shooting Glick three times before fleeing the scene.
Glick, and a well-known advocate for greater Jewish access to the site, remained in hospital and in serious condition on Thursday.
In an interview earlier this week with The Associated Press, Glick warned of the growing violence in Jerusalem and said Jews were increasingly being attacked by Muslims.
"The more extreme Islamist organizations are taking over and if we don't stop them early enough, they will take over the entire Jerusalem," he said. "We're calling upon the Israeli government, stop the violence."
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police forces surrounded the suspect's home in east Jerusalem early Thursday. The suspect was holed up in a house in the Arab side of Abu Tor, a mixed neighborhood. He then opened fire and troops responded and killed the man, identified as Moataz Hijazi, an Islamic militant recently released from prison who worked at an adjacent restaurant.
Shortly after Hijazi was shot dead, clashes broke out in Abu Tor, with Palestinians hurling stones at the riot police, who responded with rubber bullets to suppress the demonstration. Residents gathered on rooftops, chanting pro-Palestinian slogans while police set up checkpoints to control access in and out of the neighborhood.
Some Arab stores in the Old City and elsewhere in east Jerusalem closed shop to protest the closure of the Al Aqsa mosque.
The Temple Mount has been a flashpoint for violence in recent months and has been fraught lately with clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police. On Thursday, police said it had taken the unusual step of temporary closing access to the site to calm tensions.
Israel maintains that it allows free prayer to all, but Palestinians claim it is unilaterally widening access to accommodate larger numbers of Jewish worshipers. The Palestinians see this as Jewish encroachment on the site, the holiest in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam, while Jewish activists like Glick say they are being discriminated against by limiting their chances to pray atop the mount.
Israel accuses Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of inciting the recent violence. Abbas has recently called for Jews to be banned from the site and urged Palestinians to guard the compound from visiting Jews, who he called a "herd of cattle."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he has yet to hear a word of condemnation from the world against Abbas' incitement to violence.
"The international community must stop its hypocrisy and act against the inciters," Netanyahu said.
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon also reiterated accusations against Abbas Thursday.
"The assassination attempt of Yehuda Glick is another serious step in the Palestinian incitement against Jews and against the state of Israel," Yaalon said. "When Abu Mazen (Abbas) spreads lies and venom about the rights of Jews to worship in their land the result is terror, as we saw yesterday."
In a statement, Abbas did not condemn the shooting of Glick but lashed out at Israel for closing the volatile site, calling it a "declaration of war" against the Palestinians and the entire Arab and Muslim world.
"Jerusalem and its Muslim and Christian holy sites are a red line that must not be touched," he said. "This unprecedented decision is dangerous and challenging and will lead to further escalation and instability, and will create a dangerous and negative atmosphere."
Gaza's Hamas rulers praised the attack on Glick.
Clashes have also recently taken place elsewhere in east Jerusalem, the section of the holy city captured by Israel in 1967 and claimed by the Palestinians as their future capital.
The violence erupted in earnest over the summer after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed by Palestinians in the West Bank. Jewish extremists retaliated by kidnapping and burning to death a Palestinian teenager in east Jerusalem, sparking violent riots. The unrest continued throughout the summer with the 50-day Gaza war that was sparked by heavy Hamas rocket fire toward Israel.SHOW MORE