Israel halted visits by Jews and tourists to a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site on Tuesday and its military said soldiers shot dead two Palestinian gunmen in the occupied West Bank, as a wave of unrest showed no sign of subsiding.
Last week, an Israeli police raid at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a tinder-box in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, triggered rocket attacks from Gaza, south Lebanon and Syria that drew Israeli air and artillery strikes.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement after security talks that visits by non-Muslims to the sacred compound, known in Judaism as the Temple Mount, will be stopped until the end of Ramadan, expected around April 20.
There was no immediate comment from Palestinian officials on the ban, which Israel has imposed in previous years.
Under the longstanding “status quo” arrangement governing the compound, which Israel says it maintains, non-Muslims can visit but only Muslims are allowed to worship.
However, small groups of Jewish visitors have increasingly been documented praying at the outskirts of the site in defiance of those rules.
Netanyahu’s far-right police minister Itamar Ben-Gvir denounced the move.
“When terrorism strikes us we must strike back with great force, not surrender to its whims,” he said in a statement.
With a year-long escalation of Israeli-Palestinian violence, tensions are running especially high in the Holy Land as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish Passover coincide.
The Israeli military on Tuesday said two Palestinian gunmen opened fire from a vehicle at an army post before soldiers shot back and killed them near the Elon Moreh settlement east of the city Nablus, a frequent area of clashes.
Local armed alliance Den of Lions confirmed that the two men were militants and the Palestinian Health Ministry confirmed their deaths. Israeli-Palestinian violence has surged, with frequent military West Bank raids amid a spate of Palestinian street attacks. More than 90 Palestinians, most of them fighters in militant groups but some of them civilians, have been killed since January and at least 19 Israelis and foreigners have died.
Suspected Palestinian gunmen on Friday killed an Israeli-British mother and her two daughters in the West Bank and a ramming attack later in Tel Aviv killed an Italian tourist.
A Palestinian teen was killed on Monday during an Israeli raid in Jericho.
U.S.-brokered peace talks aimed at establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza -territories Israel captured in a 1967 war – have stalled for almost a decade and show no sign of revival.