Israeli police shot and killed a Palestinian man in Jerusalem early Thursday, alleging that he had attempted to assassinate a controversial right-wing Israeli activist the previous evening. The shooting threatens to further fan conflict that has been simmering in the city over the past month.
The activist, American-born rabbi Yehuda Glick, was delivering a press conference advocating for greater Jewish access to the Temple Mount plaza in Jerusalem’s Old City when he was shot at close range by a gunman on a motorcycle. The Old City is a holy site for both Jews and Muslims.
Several hours later, police announced they had killed Muatnaz Hejazi, the accused attacker, after he violently resisted arrest at his East Jerusalem home, Haaretz reports.
The incident occurred amid regular clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians in Arab neighborhoods in recent weeks. The government has struggled to clamp down on violence that has been festering in the city since the lead-up to the Gaza War this summer, reports the Wall Street Journal. And it comes just a week after a Palestinian driver rammed his car into a Jerusalem light rail platform, killing two people and sparking rioting in Palestinian neighborhoods across the city.
The attack on Mr. Glick, who remains in serious but stable condition at a Jerusalem Hospital, was greeted by immediate condemnation from Israeli officials.
"The assassination attempt of Yehuda Glick is another serious step in the Palestinian incitement against Jews and against the state of Israel," Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said in a statement Thursday, The Associated Press reports. "When Abu Mazen (Abbas) spreads lies and venom about the rights of Jews to worship in their land the result is terror, as we saw yesterday."
As Reuters reports, however, Glick’s controversial campaign to allow Jews to pray at Temple Mount — known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary — is among the major factors contributing to growing conflict over the past month. Jews have increasingly staked a claim to the site over the last year, as The Christian Science Monitor has reported.
A major focus of Palestinian anger in the past few weeks has been Jewish settlers moving into largely Arab neighborhoods. They've also been outraged over the increasing number of visits by religious Jews, including some politicians, accompanied by Israeli police to the sacred Old City site.
While the site is administered by Jordanian religious authorities, Israeli police secure it. Non-Muslims are allowed to visit under close monitoring but are not allowed to pray, a prohibition at the heart of the tensions, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.
Just before he was shot Wednesday, Glick had been participating in a press conference at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center with two far-right members of the ruling Likud Party who support legislation increasing Jewish access to the site, the Financial Times reports.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he opposes the bill. But it enjoys the support of several members of his government, including conservative economy minister Naftali Bennett, the Times reports.
Mr. Hejazi, the alleged Palestinian gunmen, had spent a decade in Israeli prisons before being released in 2012, Haaretz reports.
In the hours after his killing, his East Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Tor became a scene of shock and anger. As Reuters observed:
Hejazi's father and brother were arrested and taken for questioning. Israeli police fired sound bombs to keep back angry residents, who shouted abuse as they watched the drama unfold from surrounding balconies.
One Abu Tor resident, an elderly man with a walking stick who declined to be named, described Hejazi as a troublemaker and said "he should have been shot 10 years ago". Others said he was a good son from a respectable family.
"They are good people, he does nothing wrong," said Niveen, a young woman who declined to give her family name.