ISTANBUL — Turkey on Monday blasted Israel’s two-day closure of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, following a deadly terror attack, as a “crime against humanity.”
The site, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif compound, includes the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque. It is the third holiest site in Islam, and the holiest in Judaism as the site of the biblical temples.
Israel closed the ultra-sensitive site on Friday and Saturday after the shooting attack in which three armed Arab-Israeli assailants emerged from the compound and killed two Israeli Druze police officers.
A Turkish government spokesman said Israel’s temporary closure of the site was “a crime against humanity, a crime committed against the freedom of religion. From the point of view of human rights, it’s utterly unacceptable.”
“It really is an unacceptable decision, and wounding to the highest degree,” said Numan Kurtulmus, who is also deputy prime minister, at a news conference in Ankara after a cabinet meeting.
Ties between Israel and Turkey, former close allies, deteriorated sharply a few years into the rise of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamic-focused movement to power in 2003, and ruptured following the May 2010 IDF raid on a Turkish vessel seeking to break Israel’s military blockade of the Gaza Strip, in which 10 Turks were killed.
Erdogan has over the years often criticized Israel sharply, issuing incendiary statements including in May when he called the country “racist and discriminatory” over a bill that would have banned religious institutions from using loudspeakers at certain hours, a move seen as targeting Muslim mosques who issue a pre-dawn call to prayer.
Erdogan accused Israel of practices similar to South African apartheid — remarks that caused Israel to angrily describe him as a “serial human rights violator.”
Last week in contrast, Israel said Turkish Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, who is Erdogan’s son-in-law, would visit by year’s end to conclude an agreement for the building of a gas pipeline linking the two countries.
Friday’s attack was among the most serious incidents in Jerusalem in recent years and heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions. The gunmen, from the northern Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm, had come from the Temple Mount to carry out the attack.
Israel took the highly unusual decision of closing the compound for two days and then installed metal detectors at its entrances, triggering anger from Muslim worshipers.