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Israel bars Palestinians from Jerusalem Old City as tensions mount

Israel's security cabinet to meet on Monday amid fears that sporadic violence could spin out of control, leading to a third Palestinian intifada
Israeli police block the access of one of the gates of occupied Jerusalem's Old City as Israeli extreme far-right supporters demonstrate against Palestinians, on 3 October 2015 (AFP)

Israel began barring Palestinians from Jerusalem's Old City on Sunday as tensions mounted following clashes and attacks in the occupied territories.

The restrictions will be in place for two days, with only Israelis, tourists, residents of the area, business owners and students allowed, Israeli police said.

Worship at the sensitive Al-Aqsa mosque compound will be restricted to Old City residents and Israeli citizens of Palestinian origin, and limited to men aged 50 and above.

There will be no age restrictions on women. They will be allowed to enter through one specific gate.

The Palestinian government, meanwhile, denounced the "Israeli escalation" following the ban.

"The Palestinian government denounces the Israeli escalation policy by Israeli occupation authorities against our people in occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank," it said in a statement after the imposition of the two-day ban.

Israeli security forces already on alert after recent clashes at the Al-Aqsa compound and surrounding Old City.

On Saturday night, a Palestinian killed two Israeli men and wounded a woman in a knife and gun attack in the Old City, before being shot by police, Israeli officials reported.

Police named the attacker as Mohannad Shafiq Halani, 19, from a village near Ramallah in the West Bank.

The group Islamic Jihad said he was one of its members, but did not claim responsibility for the attack. The movement Hamas, in power in the Gaza Strip, praised the attack as "a heroic act of resistance".

The United States condemned it, with State Department spokesman John Kirby saying Washington was "very concerned about mounting tensions in the West Bank and Jerusalem".

In a separate incident on Saturday, a Palestinian man stabbed an Israeli man in west Jerusalem before being shot dead by police while he was fleeing the scene. The victim was wounded, police said.

It is not yet clear if the incident is the same as the one reported by the website Arab48.com, which identified the Palestinian as 19-year old Fadi Samir Mustafa Alloun, but adding that the youth was shot dead.

Footage posted in Israeli media also purportedly showed an unidentified person being shot by Israeli men, amid shouts in Hebrew "shoot him" and "Arab". 

Clashes also broke out overnight around a checkpoint leading to the occupied West Bank involving Palestinians, Israeli settlers and Israeli security forces, with sporadic gunfire heard in the area.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was to return from the United States on Sunday and hold consultations with Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon. His security cabinet is also to meet on Monday, after the end of the Jewish Sukkot holiday, Israeli media reported.

There have been fears that the sporadic violence could spin out of control, with some warning of the risk of a third Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

Last week, in his address to the UN General Assembly, Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas said he was no longer bound by previous accords with Israel, accusing the Israeli government of violating them.

Israeli security forces have been on high alert during recent Jewish and Muslim holidays, particularly with far-right Jews visiting the sensitive Al-Aqsa compound, which is located in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

The eight-day Jewish Sukkot holiday began last Sunday and has continued all week.

Thursday night's killing of a Jewish settler couple in the West Bank further fuelled tensions, as the Israeli deployed extra troops to the area.

Palestinian police and medical sources said 10 Palestinians were wounded by Israeli fire in the West Bank on Saturday during a raid by troops in Nablus.

The Israeli military said that arrests had been made, without providing details.