Security forces locked down parts of Jerusalem’s Old City on Saturday and an ultra-sensitive holy site remained closed after an attack that killed two police officers and heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions. Three Arab Israeli assailants opened fire on Israeli police yesterday in the Old City before fleeing to the nearby Haram al-Sharif, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, where they were shot dead by police.
Israeli authorities said they had come from the flashpoint holy site, which includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, to commit the attack. Israeli authorities took the highly unusual decision to close the Al-Aqsa mosque compound for Friday prayers, leading to anger from Muslims and Jordan, the holy site’s custodian.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has signalled it is to remain closed until at least Sunday while security was assessed. He also spoke of increasing security at entrances to the holy site when it reopens — likely to be a controversial move.
Today, there was restricted access through Damascus Gate, the main entrance used by Palestinians into Jerusalem’s Old City, with only residents with identification being allowed to pass. Around 20 Palestinians waited at police barriers near Damascus Gate to see if they would be let through. “This is not security. This is punishment,” said Bader Jweihan, a 53-year-old accountant for a bus company who was trying to get to work but was refused entrance there. “They want to punish the Arab Jerusalem citizens.”
Musa Abdelmenam Qussam, 73 and with poor eyesight, was being helped by one of his grandsons as he walked with a cane and sought to enter through the police barrier. The owner of a book wholesale shop in the Old City, he said he usually prays at Al-Aqsa every day. “This mosque is not only for Muslims. Tourists come,” he said after being denied entrance.
“This city is for all the world. It must be open.” Jaffa Gate, heavily used by tourists and near the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, was open but with a heavy police presence. A group of tourists from Poland said they were concerned when they heard about the shooting yesterday but wanted to continue their visit.