Israeli police closed and cancelled Friday noon prayers in Al Aqsa mosque and briefly detained Jerusalem’s top Muslim cleric after three Palestinians and two Israeli police officers were killed in a shootout in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Sheikh Mohammad Ahmed Hussein, who decried the mosque closure, was taken into custody from the Bab Al-Asbat area (Lion’s Gate) after leading an open-air prayer nearby.
Fight for Jerusalem continues 50 years after the war
“Israeli police detained my father in a violent manner and took him to unknown destination,” said Omar, son of the grand mufti.
Hussein was later released on $2,800 bail.
Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from Jerusalem, said it was the first time in years that the compound closed for prayers on Friday.
“Of course this has the potential to increase tensions among the about 10,000 Palestinians who normally come here for worship,” Fawcett said.
Sheikh Omar Keswani, a religious official at Al Aqsa, decried the closure and cancellation of Friday prayers.
“Forbidding the Friday prayer is an unfair procedure,” Keswani told Al Jazeera. “What happened earlier is now being taken advantage of by the Israeli right to impose a new reality in Al Aqsa mosque.”
Haj Khalil Abu Elsheikh, 77, travelled 100km from Beer-sheva to attend Friday prayers at Al Aqsa mosque.
“No religion allows this,” he told Al Jazeera, referring to praying on the side of the road. “No belief accepts this.”
The rare attack from within the contested shrine, revered by both Muslims and Jews, raised new concerns about an escalation of violence.
The ancient, marble-and-stone compound houses the Al Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site, and the 7th century Dome of the Rock. Thousands pray there every Friday.
The Western Wall of the compound, also known as the Wailing Wall, is considered the holiest site in Judaism.
|Thousands of Palestinian pray every Friday at the Al Aqsa mosque compound [Reuters]|
Al Jazeera’s Fawcett said the Palestinians reportedly shot at Israeli security forces near the Lion’s Gate to the Old City.
“The three attackers were armed with two machine guns, a pistol and a knife, according to Israeli police,” Fawcett reported.
“They were then pursued inside the Al Aqsa mosque compound. In the courtyard of the compound a final gun battle ensued between the gunmen and Israeli security forces.
Following the attack, Israeli police cleared the Al Aqsa mosque and closed it for public. They identified the assailants as Arab citizens of Israel.
|Israeli policemen stood guard as Palestinian men took part in Friday prayers outside Jerusalem’s Old City [Ammar Awad/Reuters]|
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly tried to allay Muslim fears, saying that the status quo at the Muslim-administered site “will be preserved”.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reached out to Netanyahu in a rare phone call to discuss the situation in Jerusalem, highlighting the concern about a possible escalation, according to the official Palestinian news agency WAFA.
Abbas condemned the attack and said he rejects “any violence from any party, particularly at holy sites”.
Additional reporting by Ibrahim Husseini
|Israeli policemen performed body searches in Jerusalem’s Old City after the shooting [Ammar Awad/Reuters]|
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies