JERUSALEM —After a long, hot day of violent protests that saw three Arab Muslims fatally shot during clashes, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced Friday night that his government would “freeze contact on all levels” with Israel until newly installed metal detectors are removed from the entrances to al-Aqsa Mosque.
As news of Abbas’s ultimatum broke, the Israeli military spokesman’s office reported that three Israelis were fatally stabbed late Friday by an assailant who entered their home in Halamish, a Jewish settlement in the northern West Bank. The attacker was shot. Israel’s Channel 2 news station said the assailant was Palestinian.
Earlier in the day, the Palestinian Health Ministry, a hospital and the Red Crescent ambulance service reported that three Palestinians were killed in the clashes and dozens more wounded. Many more suffered from inhaling tear gas, the medics said.
In his statement, Abbas did not say whether his ultimatum would mean a halt to the security coordination between Palestinian police and intelligence units and their Israeli counterparts — an uneven but working relationship that senior Israeli military commanders have long credited with tamping down potentially explosive violence in the West Bank.
The fast-moving events came as Israel and the Palestinians are locked in a dangerous showdown over Israel’s decision to install the metal detectors at the entrances to the al-Aqsa Mosque compound after a shooting rampage at the site last week.
On Friday, thousands of Muslim worshipers knelt in prayer on hot pavement and cobbled alleys around the Old City in an escalating protest.
After peaceful midday prayers ended, a wave of tire burning and stone throwing by Palestinians began in Arab communities around East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The protests were met by harsh Israeli countermeasures, including the use of water cannons, rubber bullets, stun grenades and live ammunition.
Palestinian authorities and media reports identified the three dead Palestinians as Muhammad Abu Ghanam, Muhammad Sharaf and Muhammad Mahmoud Khalaf.
Israeli officials said the “circumstances were being investigated” in the deaths of the three Palestinians. Five Israeli police officers also were lightly wounded in the earlier clashes.
Israeli authorities said thousands of Palestinians, from Israel, East Jerusalem and the West Bank, participated in the demonstrations and the rushed funerals that followed.
Israeli police units in riot gear shut down entrances to the Old City with barricades, conducted searches and checked identification cards, and refused entry to Arab men under age 50.
The day’s protests were sparked by a decision by Israel to erect metal detectors at the entrance to the mosque compound in the Old City.
Israeli authorities said the detectors were necessary to protect Muslim worshipers and Israeli forces after three young Arab Israelis smuggled a pistol and two homemade machine guns into the compound and emerged to shoot and kill two Israeli Border Police officers a week ago. The three gunmen were killed in a shootout with police.
Many Palestinians, who say it is their sacred duty to defend the mosque, saw the introduction of metal detectors as an additional instrument of control by Israel and refused to believe that the added security was for their own protection.
Muslim spiritual leaders called on their followers to come to Jerusalem to pray at the barricades Friday, the Muslim holy day, as a form of protest.
One of those who joined the gathering Friday, Jamal Hassan, 58, a religious leader from Qalqilyah in the West Bank, said the worshipers would not back down.
“We will not pass through their metal detectors,” he said. “Al-Aqsa is our place of worship, not theirs.”
Jowad Dibis, 50, from the Shuafat Palestinian refugee camp in East Jerusalem, voiced suspicion of Israel’s motives. “This is all part of the Israeli plan,” he said. “Little by little, they want to take al-Aqsa away from us and put up their own temple.”
Israeli officials have pointed out that the Jewish center of prayer, the Western Wall, is accessible only to those who first pass through security checkpoints, including metal detectors. Israeli leaders also said that metal detectors are used at Muslim holy sites around the world, including in Medina and Mecca.
“Mecca is completely different,” said Dibis when asked why he opposed the new security measure in Jerusalem. “That is Saudis for Saudis — Saudi Arabia protecting Muslims. This is an occupation, a big difference. You think they want to protect us? Everything is about controlling us.”
The raised esplanade in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City is revered by both Muslims and Jews. Muslims call it Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, and it is the spot where the faithful believe the prophet Muhammad went on his night journey to heaven. Al-Aqsa is Islam’s third-holiest site after Mecca and Medina.
Jews refer to the area as the Temple Mount. It is Judaism’s holiest site, believed to mark the foundation stone of the world’s creation and the place where Abraham was instructed by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. It was also once the site of two Jewish temples.
Israel and Jordan share responsibility for running the site under a complicated “status quo” agreement that has been in place for decades. Any change to that agreement — by either side — is seen as a provocation. Under the arrangement, Muslims are allowed to enter and pray freely, while Jews and other visitors can go inside but are forbidden to pray there.
Jordan and other Sunni Muslim states pressured Israel this week to remove the metal detectors and ease the new security measures, fearing a flare-up of violence.
The White House released a statement Thursday expressing concern over the rising tensions in the city.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met late Thursday with senior ministers and representatives from the Israeli police, the army and the internal security service to decide whether to leave the metal detectors in place or find alternative security measures.
The Israeli army and the internal security service were reported to be advocates for removing the metal detectors, while the Israeli police and Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan wanted them left in place.
“Israel is committed to maintaining the status quo and freedom of access at the holy sites. Israel is also committed to protecting the safety of all worshipers and visitors,” according to a statement released by the government after the meeting.
Israeli Arab member of parliament Jamal Zahalka said the decision to transfer the matter to the Israeli police was a sham.
Erdan, the minister, told The Washington Post on Thursday that the measures were implemented purely for security reasons and to prevent copycat attacks.
“Many, many mosques around the world have exactly the same security checks, and many use metal detectors,” he said. “Any protest over this is really an issue over who has sovereignty at the Temple Mount.”
Sufian Taha contributed to this report.