3 Palestinians, 3 Israelis killed in violence over holy site
Escalating tensions over Jerusalem's most contested shrine boil over
Escalating Israeli-Palestinian tensions over Jerusalem's most contested shrine boiled over into violence on Friday leaving six people dead — three Palestinians in street clashes and three Israelis in a stabbing attack at a West Bank settlement.
After nightfall, a Palestinian sneaked into a home in the Israeli settlement of Halamish in the West Bank and stabbed to death three Israelis, the head of Israel's rescue service said.
An Israeli news site said those killed were two men and a woman who were having dinner at the time. The army released footage showing a blood-covered kitchen floor.
Israel TV's Channel 10 said the assailant was in his late teens and had posted on Facebook that he was upset by the events at the shrine. The site is known to Jews as Temple Mount and to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary or al-Haram al-Sharif.
Eli Bin, the head of Israel's rescue service MDA, said an off-duty soldier next door heard screams, rushed to the home and shot the attacker through a window. Bin said the attacker was wounded and taken to hospital.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, announced that he is freezing ties with Israel, dealing a blow to U.S. efforts to try to renew long-dormant peace talks.
Abbas said contact with Israel would be suspended on "all levels." It was not immediately clear if this means long-standing security co-ordination between Israeli troops and Abbas's forces will be halted.
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At issue in the current round of violence are metal detectors Israel installed at the Jerusalem shrine earlier this week in response to a deadly attack by Arab gunmen.
The metal detectors are perceived by the Palestinians as an encroachment on Muslim rights and portrayed by Israel as a needed security measure following the attack that killed two Israeli policemen.
Earlier Friday, several thousand Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank clashed with Israeli troops, burning tires or throwing stones and firecrackers. Troops fired live rounds, rubber bullets and tear gas. Three Palestinians were killed and several dozen hospitalized with live or rubber bullet injuries.
White clouds of tear gas rose from Jerusalem streets and West Bank flashpoints. In one neighbourhood, Palestinians threw stones from behind a mattress used as a shield.
Israel also faced growing criticism from the Muslim world, and thousands staged anti-Israel protests after Friday prayers in Jordan and Yemen. Turkey and Egypt also condemned the violence.
The confrontations could escalate in coming days as both sides dig in.
Israel said the metal detectors would remain in place. Lawmaker Tzachi Hanegbi, a confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Israel would not surrender to "violence and incitement" by those "attempting to drag us into a religious war."
'We will not back off'
Jerusalem's top Muslim cleric, Mohammed Hussein, said protests, including mass street prayers outside the shrine, would continue until the devices are removed. He told worshippers Friday that they should prepare for a "long test of wills" with Israel.
"We will not back off," he said.
The shrine, revered by Muslims and Jews, sits at the emotional epicentre of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, symbolizing the rival religious and national narratives of the two sides.
Disputes over the 15-hectare walled hilltop platform in Jerusalem's Old City have repeatedly triggered major confrontations in the past.
Earlier this week, Israel began installing metal detectors at the gates of the compound, saying extra measures were required to prevent further attacks.
Muslim leaders portrayed the metal detectors as part of a purported Israeli campaign to expand its control over the shrine — a claim Israel denies. Muslim clerics urged worshippers to pray in the streets near the shrine, rather than submit to the new security procedures.
Israel heightened security following killing of 2 Israeli police officers a week ago. 3 Pal. shooters killed. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/cbc?src=hash">#cbc</a> <a href="https://t.co/mfcJxG7mab">pic.twitter.com/mfcJxG7mab</a>—@DerekStoffelCBC
The faithful complied. Thousands flocked to the Old City each day this week for street prayers, kneeling on mats spread on cobble stone and asphalt.
On Friday, the highlight of the Muslim religious week, Israeli police severely restricted Muslim access to the Old City to prevent mass protests.
Some 3,000 officers were deployed at checkpoints in and around the city, turning away Muslim men under the age of 50, including those trying to reach the city from Israel and the West Bank.
In the end, thousands reached the Old City — a fraction of the typical Friday turnout of tens of thousands of worshippers.
Hardly any Palestinians entered the al-Aqsa compound - refusing to pass through Israeli metal detectors. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/cbc?src=hash">#cbc</a> <a href="https://t.co/pEisNrgpOs">pic.twitter.com/pEisNrgpOs</a>—@DerekStoffelCBC
After peaceful prayers, clashes erupted in several areas of Jerusalem and across the West Bank.
Palestinian health officials said three Palestinians were killed by live fire in different areas of Jerusalem.
The Red Crescent said 390 Palestinians were hurt, including close to 100 who were hospitalized for live fire or rubber bullet injuries. Israeli police said five officers were wounded.
The perceived threat to the shrine, home to the Al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques, has galvanized Palestinians — especially those in east Jerusalem, which was captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war and quickly annexed.
Since 1967, Israel has increasingly cut off east Jerusalem from its West Bank hinterland, leaving the city's Arab residents without political leadership.
Muslim clerics stepped into the void this week, taking the lead in prayer protests.
Under the post-1967 arrangements, Muslims administer the compound. Jews can visit, but not pray there. For decades, the status quo held, in part because leading rabbis, citing religious purity laws, banned Jews from entering.
In recent years, religious opinion has shifted, and growing numbers of Jews are visiting the compound. This shift has stoked Muslim fears of a purported Israeli plan to expand Jewish control there. Israel has reiterated that it has no intention to change the status quo.
If we let them, they will take over the mosque completely. If we resist them, they will stop.- Fakhri Abu Diab, Muslim worshipper
Fakhri Abu Diab, a 55-year-old worshipper, said he feels Muslims must stand their ground.
"If we let them, they [Israelis] will take over the mosque completely," he said, standing near the Old City. "If we resist them, they will stop."
The dispute over the detectors has led to rising tensions between Israel and the Muslim world.
The compound is the third holiest site of Islam, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. It is also Judaism's holiest site, once home to biblical temples.
Jordan, the custodian of the Jerusalem shrine, has repeatedly appealed to Israel to remove the devices. The two countries co-operate closely on regional security issues, but frequently disagree on Israel's policies at the shrine.
On Friday, several thousand Jordanians protested against Israel in the Jordanian capital of Amman.
Demonstrators chanted, "the people want to liberate al-Aqsa," referring to one of the mosques in the compound.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said his country is in touch with Israeli officials to try to end the crisis. Speaking in Ankara after Friday prayers, he called Israel's security measures "radical," saying limits imposed on Muslim prayers would not contribute to a solution.
With a file from CBC News