Mosque closure declared Israeli ‘act of war’

Right'wing Jews are restrained by police at the al'Aqsa site. Picture: Getty
Right'wing Jews are restrained by police at the al'Aqsa site. Picture: Getty
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POLICE in Israel have shot dead a 32-year-old Palestinian man suspected of trying to kill a far-right Jewish activist and closed access to an important Islamic site.

The closure of the al-Aqsa mosque compound, or Temple Mount, led to fierce clashes in East Jerusalem amid fears of a new intifada, or Palestinian uprising. It was the first full closure of the site, venerated by both Jews and Muslims, in 14 years.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas denounced Israeli actions as “tantamount to a ­declaration of war”.

The Palestinian who was killed was named as Moataz ­Hejazi. His body was left lying in a pool of blood among satellite dishes on the roof of a three-storey house in Abu Tor, part of Arab East Jerusalem, as Israeli forces sealed the area and came under attack from stone-throwing Palestinians.

Mr Hejazi was suspected of shooting and wounding Yehuda Glick, a far-right religious activist who has led a campaign for Jews to be allowed to pray on the Temple Mount compound.

Mr Glick, 48, a US-born settler, was shot as he left a conference at the Menachem Begin Heritage Centre in Jerusalem late on Wednesday. The gunman fled on the back of a motorcycle.

A spokesman for the centre said Mr Hejazi had worked at a restaurant there. Mr Glick – who suffered four gunshot wounds – was in hospital in a serious but stable condition, doctors said yesterday.

Residents said hundreds of Israeli police had been involved in the pre-dawn search for Mr Hejazi. He was traced to his family home in the back-streets of Abu Tor and cornered on the terrace of an adjacent building.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said: “Anti-terrorist units surrounded a house in the Abu Tor neighbourhood to arrest a suspect in the attempted murder of Yehuda Glick.

“Immediately upon arrival, they were shot at. They returned fire and shot and killed the ­suspect.”

Locals said Mr Hejazi had been released from 11 years in an Israeli prison in 2012. His father and brother were arrested. Israeli police fired sound bombs to keep back groups of angry residents, who shouted abuse as they watched the drama unfold from surrounding balconies.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad, two militant groups, praised the shooting of Mr Glick and mourned Mr Hejazi’s death.

“We praise his martyrdom that came after a life full of jihad and sacrifice and which responded to the call of holy duty in defending al-Aqsa mosque,” Islamic Jihad said.

East Jerusalem – captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war and occupied ever since – has been a source of intense ­friction in recent months, especially around Silwan, which sits in the shadow of the Old City and al-Aqsa.

Jewish settler organisations have acquired more than two dozen buildings in Silwan over the years, including nine in the past three months, and moved settler families into them, in an ­effort to make the district more Jewish. Around 500 settlers now live among about 40,000 Palestinian residents.

That process, combined with the tension over the site, which is the third-holiest shrine in Islam and the holiest place in Judaism, have led, say locals, to the most-fractious atmosphere in East Jerusalem in more than a decade – since the second intifada, or uprising, began in 2000.

Yesterday, crowds of young Palestinian men and boys blocked streets with rubbish skips and lit fires near where Mr Hejazi was killed. They smashed tiles and bricks and threw the shards at Israeli police, masking their faces with bandanas or pulling hooded tops around their heads. Police responded with sound bombs and tear gas, scattering the crowd.

After Mr Glick was shot, far-right Jewish groups urged supporters to march on al-Aqsa yesterday morning, prompting the police decision to close the site to all visitors.