Late Thursday, the US secretary of state called on Israel to reopen Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque to worshippers. Earlier, Israel took the unusual step of closing the al-Aqsa mosque compound to all visitors amid concerns over a rapid escalation of violence in Jerusalem. The country plans to reopen the compound on Friday.
"I am extremely concerned by escalating tensions across Jerusalem and particularly surrounding the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount," US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement. "It is absolutely critical that all sides exercise restraint, refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric, and preserve the historic status quo on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount - in word and in practice."
The compound Kerry referred to houses Islam's third holiest site, called the Noble Sanctuary in English, but also Judaism's most sacred shrine: the Temple Mount. Jews normally pray at the Western Wall situated below the platform on which the al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques stand.
Kerry condemned Wednesday's shooting of Yehuda Glick - a US citizen, rabbi and member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud - at Jerusalem's Menachem Begin Heritage Center. Hours after the closure was announced, Israeli police shot and killed a man suspected of attempting to assassinate Glick, a hard-line advocate of expanding Jewish prayer at the Old City's holy compound.
Jerusalem has seen almost daily unrest, particularly around the disputed holy site. Glick had encouraged Jews to also pray on the plateau itself and not just the Western Wall, angering Muslims, who see it as further encroachment on Palestinian land.
"I urge the leaders of all three parties to exercise decisive leadership and work cooperatively together to lower tensions and discourage violence," Kerry said.
In recent weeks, settlers have moved en masse into largely Arab neighborhoods - ground that many thought would be set aside for a future Palestinian state - and right-wing Orthodox Jews, politicians among them, have increased their visits to the sacred Old City compound. There have long been tensions on the eastern side of Jerusalem, but violence erupted in earnest over the summer, shortly before Israel launched its 50-day offensive on the Gaza Strip.
mkg/av (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)