JERUSALEM – Security forces locked down parts of Jerusalem’s Old City including Al-Aqsa mosque on Saturday after an attack that killed two police officers escalated Israeli-Palestinian rift.
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The closure came in the purview of three Arab Israeli assailants who opened fire on Israeli police just a day earlier in the Old City before fleeing to the nearby Haram al-Sharif, known to Jews as the Temple Mount. The assailants were gunned down by police there.
Israeli authorities said the attackers had come from the flashpoint holy site, which includes the Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, to wreak havoc.
The 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.
Wael Arabiyat, Jordan’s Islamic affairs minister, warned that keeping Al Aqsa mosque closed is “dangerous” and “unprecedented”. On Friday Jordan called for the immediate reopening of the mosque.
On the other hand, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has indicated that the mosque will stay closed until at least Sunday while security was assessed, rubbishing Jordan’s criticism.
“Instead of denouncing the terrorist attack, Jordan chose to attack Israel,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying by officials, and called for restraint.
Netanyahu also spoke of increasing security at entrances to the site when it reopens — likely to be a controversial move.