Israel partially reopens access to Temple Mount

Story highlights

At midday Friday, the site was open only to men ages 50 and older and to women

Israel closed the Temple Mount, which includes al-Aqsa Mosque, on Thursday after two shootings

Rabbi Yehuda Glick was shot and hospitalized in serious condition

Police say they shot and killed a suspect in the shooting after he fired at them

Jerusalem CNN  — 

Israel partially reopened access to the Temple Mount for Muslim prayers Friday, a day after taking a rare step of closing it amid Israeli-Palestinian tensions following the shooting of a controversial rabbi and subsequent killing of a suspect.

Midday access to the site, which includes the al-Aqsa Mosque, was granted only to men ages 50 and above, as well as to women – restrictions that Israeli police said were meant to prevent demonstrations by young Muslim men.

About 4,000 people attended midday prayers at the mosque, police said, down from thousands more that are normally seen around noon on the Muslim holy day of Friday. Police presence also was beefed up, with about 3,000 officers in and around the Old City and East Jerusalem.

Thursday’s closure of the Temple Mount – the first in more than a decade – infuriated Palestinians, with a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas calling it a “declaration of war.”

The scene Friday at the mosque was largely peaceful, with people praying quietly, police said.

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem is the holiest site in Judaism and the third-holiest site in Islam. Jews call it the Temple Mount, and Muslims know it as Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary).

Closure came after Wednesday shootings

Israeli police said they closed the Temple Mount on Thursday “to prevent disturbances” after the drive-by shooting of controversial activist Rabbi Yehuda Glick on Wednesday night.

Israeli police shot and killed a suspect in Glick’s shooting Wednesday night. An Israeli counterterror unit surrounded the house of the unnamed suspect in the shooting, police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said on Twitter.

He said the man opened fire on police, who shot and killed him.

Glick is an advocate of Jewish access to Jerusalem’s fiercely contested holy sites. After he gave a presentation in Jerusalem on Wednesday night, a man on a motorcycle shot him.

Rosenfeld described the attack on Glick as an “attempted assassination.” The rabbi was undergoing an abdominal operation for intestinal issues Friday afternoon and was in serious but stable condition, said Dr. Ofer Merkin, head of the trauma unit at Shaare Zedek hospital.

Ofir Gendelman, the Israeli Prime Minister’s spokesman for Arab media, tweeted that Thursday’s Temple Mount closure was “temporary & meant to prevent riots & escalation as well as to to restore calm and status quo to the Holy Places.”

The closure didn’t sit well with Palestinians. Presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh told CNN that the decision to close off the site was a “brazen challenge” and “grave behavior” that would lead to “further tensions and instability.”

Earlier, Rudeineh told the WAFA news agency, the official Palestinian news service, that Israel’s act was a “declaration of war on the Palestinian people, Palestinian religious sites and a declaration of war on both the Arab and Islamic states.”

Contested site

The site, with its golden dome overlooking Jerusalem, is said to have hosted sacred events in both the Jewish and Muslim religions.

Rabbinic sages say that God gathered dust from the spot to create Adam, the first man, before setting him loose in the Garden of Eden.

Jewish tradition holds that the Temple Mount also contains Mount Moriah, where Abraham, the Hebrew patriarch, is said to have nearly sacrificed his son – under God’s orders – before an angel intervened.

Later, Israeli King Solomon constructed the first Jewish temple on the mount, including the Holy of Holies, a room that kept the Ark of the Covenant, which was said to contain the tablets on which God wrote the Ten Commandments.

Muslims believe that the Prophet Mohammed was carried on a flying steed from Mecca to the Jerusalem site during his miraculous Night Journey, said Muqtedar Khan, an expert on Islam and politics at the University of Delaware.

“It’s all about al-Aqsa,” said Khan. “That’s why all Muslims are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.”

According to Islamic tradition, the Night Journey took Mohammed to the same Jerusalem rock on which Abraham nearly sacrificed his son, where the Muslim founder led Abraham, Moses and Jesus in prayers as the last of God’s prophets.

That rock is now said to sit in the Dome of the Rock, whose golden roof gleams above the Old City skyline.

Since its construction in the seventh century, the Haram al-Sharif, now controlled by an Islamic trust, has been an almost constant source of tension between Muslims and Jews.

In the 1980s, Jewish radicals plotted to blow up the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa, believing that it would lead to a spiritual revolution and usher in the Messiah.

In 2000, the Second Intifada – a 5-year-long Palestinian uprising – was sparked, Palestinians say, after Ariel Sharon, then a candidate for Israeli prime minister, visited the compound surrounding al-Aqsa.

Sharon insisted that his visit was not intended to provoke Palestinians, but many saw it as an attempt to underline Israel’s claim to Jerusalem’s holy sites.

CNN’s Michael Schwartz reported from Jerusalem. CNN’s Jason Hanna and Holly Yan reported and wrote in Atlanta. CNN’s Daniel Burke and Kareem Khadder contributed to this report.