Reuters / April 11, 2023
Al-Aqsa Mosque closed to non-Muslims and tourists after gunmen who shot at an army post killed by security forces.
Israel has halted visits by non-Muslims and tourists to a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site, as its military said soldiers had shot dead two Palestinian gunmen in the occupied West Bank, as a wave of unrest showed no sign of subsiding.
Last week, an Israeli police raid at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a tinder box in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, triggered rocket attacks from Gaza, south Lebanon and Syria that drew Israeli air and artillery strikes.
The prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said in a statement after security talks that visits by non-Muslims to the sacred compound, known in Judaism as the Temple Mount, will be stopped until the end of Ramadan, expected around 20 April.
There was no immediate comment from Palestinian officials on the ban, which Israel has imposed in previous years.
Netanyahu’s far-right police minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, however, denounced it. “When terrorism strikes us we must strike back with great force, not surrender to its whims,” he said in a statement.
With a year-long escalation of Israeli-Palestinian violence, tensions are running especially high in the Holy Land as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish Passover coincide.
On Tuesday, the Israeli military said two Palestinian gunmen opened fire from a vehicle at an army post before soldiers shot back and killed them, near the Elon Moreh settlement east of the city Nablus, a frequent area of clashes. The Palestinian Health Ministry confirmed the two deaths.
Israeli-Palestinian violence has surged with frequent military West Bank raids amid a spate of Palestinian street attacks. More than 90 Palestinians, most of them fighters in militant groups but some of them civilians, have been killed since January and at least 19 Israelis and foreigners have died.
On Friday, suspected Palestinian gunmen killed an Israeli-British mother and her two daughters in the West Bank, and a ramming attack later in Tel Aviv killed an Italian tourist.
On Monday, a Palestinian teen was killed during an Israeli raid in Jericho/Ariha.
US-brokered peace talks aimed at establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza – territories Israel captured in a 1967 war – have stalled for almost a decade and show no sign of revival.