Jerusalem: More than 200,000 Muslims took part in the final Friday prayers of Ramadan at Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City of annexed east Jerusalem, as Israel heightened security following a Palestinian stabbing attack.
The religious authority in charge of the compound, the third holiest site in Islam, said in total 260,000 worshippers took part in the lunchtime prayers.
The prayers came only hours after a Palestinian teenager stabbed two Israelis inside the Old City before being shot dead by Israeli security.
In a separate incident, another Palestinian teenager was shot dead by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank as he sought to sneak into Jerusalem, reportedly to pray at Al-Aqsa.
In Jerusalem itself, a 19-year-old Palestinian stabbed one Israeli near the Damascus Gate and another near Jaffa Gate on the other side of the walled Old City, police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said.
One of the Israelis was in a critical condition and the other suffered serious wounds, he said.
— Days of Palestine (@DaysofPalestine) May 31, 2019
“Police units that responded at the scene saw the attacker with a knife. The attacker was shot and killed,” Rosenfeld said.
The Palestinian health ministry later named him as Yusef Wajih from Abwein village in the central West Bank.
A video released by police showed a man running through the streets and stabbing two Orthodox Jews.
The Old City has been the scene of numerous stabbings of Israelis by Palestinian assailants in recent years, though a relative calm has existed for several months.
After the latest attack, gates to the Old City were briefly sealed before being reopened as thousands thronged towards the mosque.
Inside the mostly uncovered mosque compound, water was sprayed on worshippers to keep them cool in the baking Jerusalem sun, with temperatures approaching 40 degrees.
Despite a heavy police presence, there were no reports of further incidents.
Rosenfeld said increased security presence would “continue throughout the afternoon and evening.”
The Al-Aqsa mosque compound is a key religious and political symbol for Palestinians. It is also sacred for Jews, who refer to it at the Temple Mount.
The attack came just two days before Israelis hold a major march to mark Jerusalem Day, the annual commemoration of the capture of east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967.
It was later annexed in a move not recognised by the international community.
In December 2017, US President Donald Trump broke with decades of bipartisan policy to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in a move that prompted the Palestinians to cut all contacts with his administration.
Israel insists the whole of Jerusalem is its “eternal, indivisible capital”. The Palestinians demand the city’s eastern sector as the capital of their long promised state.
– Trump’s gift –
On Thursday evening, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem as part of a Middle East tour before Washington unveils its long-awaited plan for Israel-Palestinian peace.
Kushner, accompanied by Trump envoy Jason Greenblatt, arrived in Jerusalem after earlier stops in Morocco and Jordan.
He is a key architect of the peace plan that the White House says it intends to present in the coming weeks.
But the plan, previously delayed for an Israeli general election on April 9, could face further postponements due to Israeli politics.
Israel is set to hold another general election in September after Netanyahu failed to form a coalition government, and the plan is widely seen as too sensitive an issue to introduce during a political campaign.
The Palestinian leadership has rejected the peace plan without seeing it, saying Trump has shown himself to be blatantly biased in favour of Israel.
They cite moves including declaring the disputed city of Jerusalem Israel’s capital and cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in Palestinian aid.
Trump has also handed Netanyahu other diplomatic coups, notably US recognition of Israel’s 1981 annexation of the strategic Golan Heights captured from Syria in the Six-Day War.
On Thursday, Kushner delivered Netanyahu a gift from Trump, a map of Israel signed and approvingly annotated by the US president showing the Golan as inside the Jewish state’s borders.