JERUSALEM: Israeli police on Thursday shot and killed a Palestinian man suspected of trying to kill a hard-line Jewish activist in Jerusalem, an incident that threatened to further enflame the city’s already high tensions.
Jerusalem has seen near-daily clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police, particularly around a contested site in the Old City that is holy to both Jews and Muslims.
Late Wednesday, a gunman on a motorcycle shot and wounded Yehuda Glick outside a conference promoting Jewish access to the site, a hilltop compound known to Jews as Temple Mount and to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary.
The gunman approached Glick and spoke to him in “heavy Arabic-accented Hebrew,” according to Moshe Feiglin, a lawmaker with the Likud party. The man then opened fire at point-blank range, shot Glick three times and fled the scene.
Glick, an American-born activist and a well-known advocate for greater Jewish access to the site, remained in hospital and in serious condition on Thursday.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police forces surrounded the suspect’s home in east Jerusalem early Thursday. The suspect then opened fire and troops responded and killed the man, identified as Moatez Higazi, an Islamic militant recently released from prison.
The Jerusalem holy site has been a flashpoint for violence in recent months and has been fraught lately with clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police. In an effort to calm tensions, police said it has taken the unusual step of temporary closing access to the site.
Israel maintains that it allows free prayer to all, but Palestinians claim it is unilaterally widening access to accommodate larger numbers of Jewish worshippers. The Palestinians see this as Jewish encroachment on the site, the holiest in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam, while Jewish activists like Glick say they are being discriminated against by limiting their chances to pray atop the mount.
Israel accuses Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of inciting the recent violence. Abbas has recently called for Jews to be banned from the site and urged Palestinians to guard the compound from visiting Jews, whom he called a “herd of cattle.”
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon reiterated accusations against Abbas in a statement Thursday.
“The assassination attempt of Yehuda Glick is another serious step in the Palestinian incitement against Jews and against the state of Israel,” Yaalon said. “When Abu Mazen (Abbas) spreads lies and venom about the rights of Jews to worship in their land the result is terror, as we saw yesterday.”
Clashes have also erupted elsewhere in east Jerusalem, the section of the holy city captured by Israel in 1967 and claimed by the Palestinians as their future capital.
The violence erupted in earnest over the summer after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed by Palestinians in the West Bank. Jewish extremists retaliated by kidnapping and burning to death a Palestinian teenager in east Jerusalem, sparking violent riots.
The unrest continued throughout the summer with the 50-day Gaza war that was sparked by heavy Hamas rocket fire toward Israel.