(CNN) — Tensions between Palestinians and Israelis spiked in Jerusalem Thursday as Israel closed access to the Temple Mount, a move Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called a “declaration of war.”
Presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh told CNN on Thursday that the decision to close off the site, which includes the al-Aqsa Mosque, was a “brazen challenge” and “grave behavior” that would lead to “further tensions and instability.”
Israeli police said they closed the Temple Mount “to prevent disturbances” after the drive-by shooting of controversial activist Rabbi Yehuda Glick on Wednesday night.
Ofir Gendelman, the Israeli Prime Minister’s spokesman for Arab media, tweeted Thursday that the closure was “temporary & meant to prevent riots & escalation as well as to to restore calm and status quo to the Holy Places.”
The Jerusalem complex is the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest site in Islam. Jews call it the Temple Mount and Muslims know it as Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary).
Earlier, Rudeineh told the WAFA news agency, the official Palestinian news service, that Israel’s act was a “declaration of war on the Palestinian people, Palestinian religious sites and a declaration of war on both the Arab and Islamic states.”
Israeli police shot and killed a suspect in Glick’s shooting Wednesday night. An Israeli counterterror unit surrounded the house of the unnamed suspect in the shooting, police spokesmanMickey Rosenfeld said on Twitter.
He said the man opened fire on police, who shot and killed him.
Glick is an advocate of Jewish access to Muslim holy sites. After he gave a presentation in Jerusalem on Wednesday night, a man on a motorcycle shot him.
Rosenfeld described the attack on Glick as an “attempted assassination.” The rabbi was hospitalized in serious condition.
The site, with its golden dome overlooking Jerusalem, is said to have hosted sacred events in both the Jewish and Muslim religions.
Rabbinic sages say that God gathered dust from the spot to create Adam, the first man, before setting him loose in the Garden of Eden.
Jewish tradition holds that the Temple Mount also contains Mount Moriah, where Abraham, the Hebrew patriarch, is said to have nearly sacrificed his son — under God’s orders — before an angel intervened.
Later, Israeli King Solomon constructed the first Jewish temple on the mount, including the Holy of Holies, a room that kept the Ark of the Covenant, which was said to contain the tablets on which God wrote the Ten Commandments.
Muslims believe that the Prophet Mohammed was carried on a flying steed from Mecca to the Jerusalem site during his miraculous Night Journey, said Muqtedar Khan, an expert on Islam and politics at the University of Delaware.
“It’s all about al-Aqsa,” said Khan. “That’s why all Muslims are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.”
According to Islamic tradition, the night journey took Mohammed to the same Jerusalem rock on which Abraham nearly sacrificed his son, where the Muslim founder led Abraham, Moses and Jesus in prayers as the last of God’s prophets.
That rock is now said to sit in the Dome of the Rock, whose golden roof gleams above the Old City skyline.
Since its construction in the seventh century, the Haram al-Sharif, now controlled by an Islamic trust, has been an almost constant source of tension between Muslims and Jews.
In the 1980s, Jewish radicals plotted to blow up the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa, believing that it would lead to a spiritual revolution and usher in the Messiah.
In 2000, the Second Intifada — a 5-year-long Palestinian uprising — was sparked, Palestinians say, after Ariel Sharon, then a candidate for Israeli prime minister, visited the compound surrounding al-Aqsa.
Sharon insisted that his visit was not intended to provoke Palestinians, but many saw it as an attempt to underline Israel’s claim to Jerusalem’s holy sites.
CNN’s Michael Schwartz and Daniel Burke contributed to this report.