Two Palestinian teenagers were killed as more than 200,000 Muslims took part in the final Friday prayers of Ramazan at Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City of annexed east Jerusalem, prompting Israel to heighten security.
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 suspected of stabbing two Israelis inside the Old City was shot dead by Israeli security. According to police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld, a 19-year-old Palestinian was shot dead after an Israeli was stabbed near the Damascus Gate, a bustling main entrance to the predominantly Palestinian part of the Old City, and another near Jaffa Gate on the other side of the walled Old City.
One of the Israelis was in a critical condition and the other suffered serious wounds, he said.
“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 suspect, police added, was shot by security forces while running through the Old City’s Muslim quarter.
In a separate incident, another Palestinian teenager was shot dead by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank as he sought to enter into Jerusalem, reportedly to pray at Al-Aqsa.
He was attempting to climb over the heavily guarded separation barrier from Bethlehem into Jerusalem, The Associated Press reported.
The boy’s father, Louai Ghaith, said his son had been trying to enter Jerusalem to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque for the holy day. Ghaith’s body was brought to a Bethlehem hospital, where his family identified him.
“He was going to fulfill his religious duty, he was going to worship,” Ghaith said. “They killed him… with a bullet to his heart, like a game, and 16 years I’ve been raising him.”
The COGAT, the Israeli defense body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs, said it eases tight movement restrictions on Palestinian residents of the West Bank traveling to Jerusalem for Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque. Women of all ages can enter for the occasion, as well as men over the age of 40 who undergo a background check. Younger Palestinian men must request an entry permit from the military, which are difficult to obtain.
The Old City has been the scene of numerous stabbings of Israelis by Palestinians 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 as 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.