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Jerusalem holy site shuttered after deadly Temple Mount attack

Joshua Mitnick, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

TEL AVIV, Israel-- Israel took the rare step of closing the Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem to Muslim worshipers and tourists through the weekend, after a deadly shootout Friday morning in which three Israeli Arabs killed two Israeli Druze policemen. The attackers were killed by police, stoking fears of more religion-based violence.

In a sign of the tensions and to diffuse any potential violence at Jerusalem's holiest site, President Mahmoud Abbas held a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. During the phone call, the Palestinian leader expressed "strong rejection and condemnation" of the attack in Jerusalem's Old City.

Abbas also called on Israel to lift the closure on the holy esplanade, the site of the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Noble Sanctuary shrine, warning that the move could have "consequences."

In an effort to contain a fallout, Netanyahu said that rules for worship and visits at the holy site would not be affected. However, he also said in a released statement that the police investigation of the attack would continue through the weekend and the plaza -- holy to Jews and Muslims -- might remain closed until a situation assessment Sunday. Israeli security officials vowed to tighten security checks around the holy site.

Jordan, which under its peace treaty with Israel is the official custodian of the Muslim holy sites and runs the Waqf religious authority there, also called on Israel to immediately reopen the complex.

In the hours after the attack Israeli security officers detained Jerusalem Grand Mufti Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, who called on Muslims to defy the Israeli closure.

 

"The government confirms its rejection of any assault on the rights of the Muslims in practicing their religious rites in their holy sites," said Jordanian government spokesman Mohammad Momani in a report on the official Petra News agency.

In two tweets Friday afternoon, U.S. peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, who has been meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials here this week, welcomed Abbas' call to Netanyahu as "important" and condemned praise for the attack by Palestinian militant groups.

"Terrorism must be renounced and unconditionally condemned by all," he wrote.

A spokesman for Egypt's foreign ministry voiced concern that the violence could undermine efforts to revive peace negotiations and called on the sides to "exercise restraint."

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