Washington called for Israeli authorities to reopen the Temple Mount to Muslim worshipers Thursday, while also condemning the shooting of a US-born activist who lobbied for Jewish rights on the holy site.
Secretary of State John Kerry said he was “extremely concerned” by spiraling tensions in the capital, after Israeli authorities closed the site — known as Haram al-Sharif to Muslims — in an effort to staunch possible violence following the Wednesday night shooting of Rabbi Yehudah Glick.
“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,” Kerry said in a statement.
“The Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount must be reopened to Muslim worshipers and I support the long-standing practices regarding non-Muslim visitors to the site,” he added.
Palestinians said the full closure of the site, considered holy to both Muslims and Jews, was provocative, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the closure, possibly for the first time since 1967, a “declaration of war,” according to a spokesperson.
Police said Thursday evening they would reopen the site Friday morning for Muslim prayers.
“It was decided to restore [the compound] to normal… effective immediately,” announced police spokeswoman Luba Samri, adding that because of a fear of unrest at Friday midday prayers, entry for Muslim men would be restricted to those over 50.
Kerry said any move to change access rights to the holy site would be “both provocative and dangerous.”
Currently Jews are barred from praying in the compound, considered the holiest site in Judaism, an issue Glick had advocated to change.
Police took the unorthodox move to close the compound after Glick, the leader of the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation, was shot while leaving a Jerusalem conference center Wednesday night.
Glick was in stable condition Thursday night and doctors said his condition had improved slightly.
Kerry said US authorities were in touch with Israeli officials about the shooting.
“I strongly condemn yesterday’s shooting of a US citizen outside the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem. My thoughts and prayers are with the family,” he said.
Glick’s suspected shooter, East Jerusalem resident Mu’taz Hajizi, was killed by police in a shootout early Thursday.
The shooting and closure of the Temple Mount came amid flaring tensions in Jerusalem, as an apparent terror attack on passengers disembarking the Jerusalem Light Rail gave way to near-daily rock-throwing incidents and Molotov-cocktail attacks in flashpoint East Jerusalem neighborhoods.
Officials have vowed to crack down on the violence, beefing up police presence and calling for harsher punishments for rioters.
State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said Kerry was due to speak to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the next day about working to calm tensions.
“We’ve been in close touch, as I’ve mentioned or alluded to, with senior Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian officials to try to deescalate the situation,” she said.
Earlier Thursday, Kerry distanced himself from an article published in The Atlantic Tuesday that quoted a senior administration official calling Netanyahu “a chickenshit,” saying the words were “disgraceful, unacceptable, and damaging.”
The secretary of state further emphasized that the US would continue to work “quietly and effectively” in order to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
“We still believe it is doable, but it takes courage and it takes strength,” he said of the peace process. “Both sides have to be prepared to compromise in order to do it.”
AFP contributed to this report.