Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City will reopen on Sunday, two days after the unprecedented closure heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions.
Netanyahu’s office said in a statement late on Saturday that the compound would be accessible “gradually” for the faithful, visitors and tourists.
The sensitive site was shut down on Friday after three Arab citizens of Israel shot two Israeli officers dead in the Old City before fleeing to the al-Aqsa compound where they were killed by police.
Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, the former grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestinian territories, said on Saturday that the closure was a “collective punishment” that affected thousands of worshippers.
“This is unprecedented. The mosque has not been closed for centuries. The situation is dangerous,” said Adnan Husseini, Palestinian Authority’s Jerusalem governor, on Saturday.
Israeli authorities are “inflating this situation”, he said. “We live in a conflict and there’s violence almost daily. Palestinians are killed in cold blood almost daily at checkpoints.”
Bassam al-Halaq, a senior official of Awqaf, an Islamic authority in charge of al-Aqsa, told Al Jazeera that the Israeli police were searching the entire compound, breaking through doors.
“To this point, the noble sanctuary remains closed and all chambers inside it are being searched by the Israeli police. If a chamber is locked, the lock is broken. Only three Awqaf employees are allowed on the site, including the chief electrical engineer,” he said.
The sensitive site
The mosque compound is known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif while Jews call it Temple Mount.
In 2015, Israeli soldiers stormed the mosque which resulted in days of violence and clashes. Palestinians fear an increased incursion of Israeli right-wing groups into the mosque compound.
Netanyahu has promised to honour long-standing access agreements, saying the status quo governing the site “will be preserved”.
The compound lies in occupied East Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed in a move that was never recognised by the international community.
Jews are allowed to visit, but are banned from praying there to avoid provoking tensions. They pray at the western wall of the compound, which is considered the holiest site for Jews.
In a phone call with Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday expressed his “strong rejection and condemnation of the incident” and rejected “any act of violence from any side, especially in places of worship”, according to the official Palestinian news agency, WAFA.
Antonio Guterres, UN secretary-general, has warned the attack could trigger more violence and urged all sides to avoid escalation.
Additional reporting by Ibrahim Husseini