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Israel shuts down Al Aqsa mosque after shooting

Israeli police briefly detains Jerusalem's top Muslim cleric and closes Al Aqsa mosque after deadly shootout.

Friday prayers outside Jerusalem's Old City

Israeli police closed and cancelled Friday noon prayers in Al Aqsa mosque and briefly detained Jerusalem's top Muslim cleric after three Palestinians and two Israeli police officers were killed in a shootout in Jerusalem's Old City.

Sheikh Mohammad Ahmed Hussein, who decried the mosque closure, was taken into custody from the Bab Al-Asbat area (Lion's Gate) after leading an open-air prayer nearby.

"Israeli police detained my father in a violent manner and took him to unknown destination," said Omar, son of the grand mufti.

Hussein was later released on $2,800 bail.

Sheikh Omar Keswani, a religious official at Al Aqsa, decried the closure and cancellation of Friday prayers.

"Forbidding the Friday prayer is an unfair procedure," Keswani said. "What happened earlier is now being taken advantage of by the Israeli right to impose a new reality in Al Aqsa mosque."

Haj Khalil Abu Elsheikh, 77, travelled 100km from Beer-sheva to attend Friday prayers at Al Aqsa mosque.

"No religion allows this," he said, referring to praying on the side of the road. "No belief accepts this."

Contested shrine

The rare attack from within the contested shrine, revered by both Muslims and Jews, raised new concerns about an escalation of violence.

The ancient, marble-and-stone compound houses the Al Aqsa mosque, Islam's third-holiest site, and the 7th century Dome of the Rock. Thousands pray there every Friday.

The Western Wall of the compound, also known as the Wailing Wall, is considered the holiest site in Judaism.

Following the attack, Israeli police cleared the Al Aqsa mosque and closed it for public. They identified the assailants as Arab citizens of Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly tried to allay Muslim fears, saying that the status quo at the Muslim-administered site "will be preserved".

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reached out to Netanyahu in a rare phone call to discuss the situation in Jerusalem, highlighting the concern about a possible escalation, according to the official Palestinian news agency WAFA.

Abbas condemned the attack and said he rejects "any violence from any party, particularly at holy sites".


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