JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A far-right Israeli activist was shot and wounded in Jerusalem on Wednesday as he left a conference promoting a Jewish campaign to permit praying at a flashpoint Old City compound holy to both Jews and Muslims, Israeli officials said.
Police confirmed that an unnamed man on a motorcycle had shot a Jewish man in his 50s outside the Menachem Begin Centre complex located near the walled Old City, and named for the late Israeli prime minister.
Jonathan Halevy, director of Shaarei Tzedek Hospital, said the wounded man was in serious but stable condition, undergoing surgery for gunshot wounds in the chest and abdomen.
Israeli officials identified the man who was shot as Yehuda Glick, a U.S.-born activist who is part of a movement to grant Jews permission to pray at the site known to them as Temple Mount and to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary.
The elevated marble and stone compound is the third-most sacred site in Islam and the holiest in Judaism, where two ancient Jewish temples once stood. It contains the 8th century al-Aqsa mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock, where the Prophet Mohammad is said to have ascended to heaven.
Seeking to avert friction, police took the exceedingly rare step of shutting the flashpoint holy site to all worshippers and visitors until further notice, after far-right Israeli activists urged adherents to respond to the shooting by heading en masse to the site on Thursday.
Tension has risen steadily in the eastern side of Jerusalem since just before a Gaza war that ended in August, with almost nightly clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters throwing rocks and petrol bombs.
A major focus of Palestinian anger in the past few weeks has been Jewish settlers moving into largely Arab neighborhoods and increasing numbers of visits by Orthodox Jews, including some politicians, accompanied by Israeli police to the sacred Old City compound.
Moshe Feiglin, a prominent lawmaker in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, said Glick was shot after exiting a conference entitled "Israel returns to the Temple Mount."
"What happened tonight is the attempted murder of (our)organization head, Yehuda Glick," Feiglin said. He said he had seen Glick shot at close range several times by a man who spoke to him in Arabic-accented Hebrew before opening fire.
"This is a very serious incident," Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said at the scene of the shooting. "We will hold those responsible fully accountable."
While the Old City compound is ultimately administered by Jordanian religious authorities, Israeli police secure it. Non-Muslims are allowed to visit under close monitoring but are not allowed to pray, a prohibition at the heart of the tensions.
Netanyahu has promised the "status quo" governing Jerusalem's holiest site is not about to change despite the lobbying of his political allies to enable Jewish worship there.
Palestinians seek a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as their capital, all territories Israel captured in a 1967 war. Israel annexed East Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally.
(Reporting by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Diane Craft and Lisa Shumaker)