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Israel reopens Jerusalem holy site


Yehuda Glick was shot and injured outside a conference promoting Jewish access to the holy site earlier this week (AP)

Yehuda Glick was shot and injured outside a conference promoting Jewish access to the holy site earlier this week (AP)

Yehuda Glick was shot and injured outside a conference promoting Jewish access to the holy site earlier this week (AP)

Israel has reopened a contested Jerusalem holy site and deployed more than 1,000 security personnel following clashes between Palestinians and Israeli riot police that had ratcheted up already heightened tensions in the city.

Small groups of Palestinian worshippers made their way through a series of Israeli checkpoints to the site - known to Jews as the Temple Mount and Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary - under grey skies and pouring rain.

The holy site has been a flashpoint between devotees of the two faiths for decades, underscoring the incendiary nature of the religious component in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A visit there by then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon in 2000 set off the last Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule, and it remains a potent symbol for the two peoples' competing territorial claims.

Israeli authorities had said they were limiting access to the site today to Muslim men over 50 in an attempt to dampen the prospects of violence triggered by yesterday's killing of a Palestinian man suspected of attempting to assassinate a hard-line Jewish activist.

Israeli-American rabbi Yehuda Glick was shot three times late on Wednesday but his condition is now said to be improving. Mr Glick has campaigned for more Jewish access to the site, a cherished cause for religious nationalists who resent Israel's long-standing prohibition on allowing Jews to pray there.

Sparked by the activities of a hard-line partner in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right wing coalition, more and more Jews have been visiting the site in recent months, prompting strong opposition from Muslims who fear greater Israeli influence in Jerusalem, amid accelerated Jewish settlement in the Palestinian part of the city.

Israel's brief closure of the site yesterday was the first since Mr Sharon's visit. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas called it a "declaration of war" against the Palestinians and the entire Arab and Muslim world.

Earlier, Mr Abbas had demanded Jews be banned from the site and urged Palestinians to guard the compound from visiting Jews, whom he called a "herd of cattle".

The site is the holiest place in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam. Jews say it is the location of their biblical temple while Muslims say it is the place from which the prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven.

This latest bout of Israeli-Palestinian tension can be traced back to the abduction and killing of three Jewish teenagers by Palestinian militants in the West Bank earlier this summer and the subsequent murder of a Palestinian youth by right-wing Israeli Jews in Jerusalem. Those killings helped spawn a 50-day war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip that killed more than 2,100 Palestinians and 70 Israelis.

Since the war ended on August 26, Mr Abbas has been under fire from critics who say that unlike Hamas, he has been too timid in confronting Israel.

Today, Hamas issued calls for Palestinians in the West Bank to take to the streets to defend the Jerusalem holy site and "not to abandon the Jerusalemites in the battle that is taking place in the holy city".