‘Declaration of war’: Abbas warns over 1st Al-Aqsa Mosque closure since 1967

The Dome of the Rock in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound behind the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, a densely-populated Palestinian neighbourhood on a steep hillside flanking the southern walls of Jerusalem's Old City. (AFP Photo)
The Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem has been closed to all worshipers for the first time since 1967. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas called the closure a ‘declaration of war.’

Both Jewish and Muslim worshipers will be prohibited from visiting the site “until further notice,” Israel’s public security minister said. Following the announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered "a significant hike" in the number of police forces patrolling Jerusalem, Naharnet daily reports.

Palestinian authorities quickly responded to the move, saying it was a "dangerous and blatant challenge" that would lead to more tension and instability in an already volatile situation.

This dangerous Israeli escalation is a declaration of war on the Palestinian people and its sacred places and on the Arab and Islamic nation," Abbas' spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina quoted him as saying.

"We hold the Israeli government responsible for this dangerous escalation in Jerusalem that has reached its peak through the closure of the Al-Aqsa mosque this morning," he told AFP.

He added that the state of Palestinian would employ all legal means to "hold Israel accountable" and put an end to "these ongoing attacks."

READ MORE: Hamas leader calls on Muslims to ‘defend’ Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque

Omar Al-Kiswani, director of Al-Aqsa Mosque, told RT the decision to close the site was very dangerous and irrational, saying it would lead to destabilization and a strengthening of tensions not only in Jerusalem, but in the entire region. He said the situation in Jerusalem has been turbulent as a result of the closure.

“We lay responsibility for this decision on the Israeli government and police,” Al-Kiswani said.

READ MORE: Clashes erupt in Jerusalem as Palestinians ‘denied’ access to holy mosque

The closure of Al-Aqsa, Islam’s third holiest site, followed the shooting of a right-wing Jewish activist, Yehuda Glick, on Wednesday. Glick had advocated for greater Jewish access to the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism where Al-Aqsa sits, along with the much revered Dome of the Rock.

The Americna-born Glick was shot three times by an assailant who fled the scene on the motorcycle.

On Thursday Israeli police shot dead Mutaz Hijazi in East Jerusalem, whom they claim was responsible for the attack on Glick. Israeli counter-terrorism officers said they came under fire after surrounding a residence in the Abu Tor neighborhood. Hijazi reportedly died in the subsequent shootout. Israeli security services later said that Hijazi had spent 11 years in an Israeli prison before being released in 2012.

The shooting coincided with renewed clashes between Palestinians and Jewish security forces.

On Tuesday, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat had told municipal authorities to crack down on residents in East Jerusalem over a range of offenses in order to compel them to pressure Palestinian youth who have been clashing with police on a near daily basis.

Palestinian youths from the Jalazoun refugee camp clash with Israeli security forces on a road at the entrance of the Jewish West Bank settlement of Beit El, north of Ramallah, following a march by Palestinian demonstrators against Israeli restrictions on the Al-Aqsa mosque and against Jewish settlements in the West Bank on October 24, 2014 (AFP Photo)

Earlier this month, Abbas warned his government would appeal to international law to deal with alleged Israeli “aggression” against Al-Aqsa.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas warned that his government will seek international “legal measures” to deal with Israeli “aggression” against Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque.

Abbas accused Israeli settlers of attempting to “attack the mosque” and called for Jews to be banned from the site.

Abbas' statements mirrored comments made by Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal, who earlier urged Muslims to “defend” the holy mosque after Israeli forces restricted entrance for Palestinians. Meshaal further accused Israel of trying to seize the site.

Israeli authorities have said that all are free to worship at the the compound.

Two weeks prior, clashes erupted between Palestinians and police after Israeli authorities placed restrictions on Al-Aqsa, only allowing Palestinians over the age of 50 to enter the site. Nearly 400 people gathered at the entrance to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound to protest the restrictions, with some in attendance lobbing stones at police. Police responded by firing stun grenades. Three injuries and several arrests resulted from the disturbances.

A police spokesperson at the time said police would show "zero tolerance" to prevent further clashes in the area.