3 Palestinians, 3 Israelis killed in violence over holy site
JERUSALEM (AP) — Escalating Israeli-Palestinian tensions over the Holy Land’s most contested shrine boiled over into violence on Friday that killed six people — three Palestinians in street clashes in Jerusalem 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 military said the attacker apparently jumped over the fence and infiltrated the family’s home, surprising them as they ate the traditional Sabbath evening meal. It said the Palestinian killed a man and two of his children, while a woman was wounded and taken to hospital. The man’s grandchildren were present but not harmed, it said.
The army released footage showing a blood-covered kitchen floor. It said senior military officials are meeting overnight to discuss how to proceed.
A military spokesman called the Palestinian attack “a massacre.”
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 Jerusalem shrine. 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 wounded attacker was taken to a hospital.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, announced that he is freezing ties with Israel, dealing a blow to fledgling Trump administration efforts to try to renew long-dormant peace talks.
Abbas said contacts with Israel would be suspended on “all levels.” It was not immediately clear if this means long-standing security coordination between Israeli troops and Abbas’ forces will be halted.
At issue in the current round of violence are metal detectors Israel installed at the Jerusalem shrine this week in response to an attack by Arab gunmen there.
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 neighborhood, 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 what he said was “violence and incitement” by those “attempting to drag us into a religious war.”
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 epicenter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, symbolizing the rival religious and national narratives of the two sides.
Disputes over the 37-acre (15-hectare) walled hilltop platform in Jerusalem’s Old City have repeatedly triggered major confrontations in the past.
Muslim leaders have 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.
The faithful complied. Thousands flocked to the Old City each day this week for street prayers, kneeling on mats spread on cobblestone 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, only a fraction of the typical Friday turnout of tens of thousands of worshippers reached the Old City.
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 a 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 that Israel may try to expand Jewish control there. Israel has reiterated that it has no intention to change the status quo.
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 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 cooperate 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.
Laub reported from the West Bank. Associated Press writer Ian Deitch in Jerusalem contributed to this report.