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Israel promises to reopen Jerusalem holy site amid tension

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Jerusalem

JERUSALEM, October 31 2014: Israel says it will reopen a key holy site in Jerusalem on Friday after closing it due to unrest in the city.

Earlier, a spokesman for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas described the closure of the disputed site as a “declaration of war”.

The Haram al-Sharif or Temple Mount, one of Islam and Judaism’s holiest sites, was closed on Thursday following the shooting of a Jewish activist.

The move came amid increased tension in Jerusalem following several attacks.

Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennet told the BBC that Israel would restore access to the site on Friday.

“To the best of my knowledge unless there’s unusual events that take place over the next few hours I expect that Temple Mount will be reopened for everyone,” he said.

The compound – known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif – is the holiest site in Judaism, and contains the al-Aqsa Mosque – the third holiest site in Islam.

‘Historic status-quo’

Yehuda Glick, a campaigner for greater Jewish prayer rights at the holy site, was wounded in a shooting on Wednesday.

Rabbi Glick is a well-known US-born campaigner for the right of Jews to pray at the site, which is currently prohibited.

He is currently recovering from his injuries at a Jerusalem hospital.

Israeli police later killed a Palestinian suspected of shooting him. Moataz Hejazi, 32, was shot after reportedly opening fire when police surrounded his home.

However, his cousin alleges that he was shot by police after being detained in the house.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said he was “extremely concerned” by the escalation in tensions and urged Israel to reopen the 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”, he said.

A delicate status quo governs rights of access to al-Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Israel captured the Old City in 1967 but swiftly handed control of the compound back to the Islamic religious authorities, fearful of triggering a Holy War. Israel’s security forces do impose restrictions – banning men under the age of 50 from worshipping on occasion – but argue that is about maintaining order.

Jews are allowed to visit the site but not to pray there. Now some right-wing religious groups say Jews should be allowed to pray – a demand which causes anger and unease in the Muslim world.

If it all sounds familiar – well, that is because it is. When Britain governed the Holy Land in 1929 a very similar dispute provoked rioting that led to widespread loss of life – a proper resolution of it all still feels hopelessly distant.

Jerusalem’s holiest site

  • Known as the Temple Mount to Jews and al-Haram al-Sharif to Muslims, it comprises the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, and is next to the Western Wall
  • The Western Wall, from the time of the Jewish Biblical temples, is the holiest site where Jews can pray; the Dome of the Rock, where according to Jewish tradition the Ark of the Covenant rested in the first temple, is the holiest site in Judaism
  • The al-Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site in Islam; the Dome of the Rock is revered by Muslims because of its connections to the Prophet Muhammad
  • Christians also venerate the site because of its Biblical links to Jesus
  • A Muslim committee has managed the compound since the time of the Crusades, while Israel, which has occupied East Jerusalem since 1967, controls access
  • Israel maintains a ban on prayer by non-Muslims at the compound as a security measure
  • Rabbi Yehuda Glick campaigns for allowing Jews to pray at the site

Some districts of East Jerusalem have seen nightly clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces since the Gaza conflict last summer.

A Jewish baby and Ecuadorian woman were killed when a Palestinian attacker drove his car into a group of pedestrians in Jerusalem last week.

Source: BBC

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