Report: Saudi king sent message to Israel via US on Temple Mount row

According to an Arab media report, Netanyahu invited Saudi officials to visit Jerusalem's al-Aksa Mosque to view firsthand that the status quo remains in place at the Temple Mount.

July 18, 2017 11:38
4 minute read.

Saudi King Abdullah speaks at his private residence in the Red Sea city of Jeddah. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Saudi Arabia's King Salman turned to the United States in an attempt to resolve the crisis of tensions regarding the Temple Mount in the wake of Friday's deadly shooting attack at the Jerusalem site, London-based Arabic outlet 'Elaph' reported Tuesday. White House sources have not confirmed this report.

Israel barred entrance to the contested holy site on Friday following a terrorist attack in which two Israeli Border Police officers were killed. Israel reopened the compound on Sunday under new security measures, drawing protest by Muslim religious authorities over the installation of metal detectors at its entrances.

 Palestinians stand in front of Israeli police officers and newly installed metal detectors at an entrance to the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City July 16, 2017. (REUTERS)

According to the Elaph report, the decision to reopen the revered complex to worshipers came after the Saudi king personally intervened in the issue, urging Israel via the White House to immediately end its closure of the Temple Mount.
Jerusalem Old City security arrangements beefed up following friday attack (credit: POLICE)

The report quoted unnamed sources as saying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had relayed his vow to the Saudis by means of the US administration as a third party messenger that Israel would not change the status quo on the Temple Mount. The sources cited by Elaph also said that Jordan had been involved in the process of communication.

Under the status quo agreement, which Netanyahu pledged late on Saturday to continue to uphold, Jews are allowed to enter the Temple Mount under close supervision, but only Muslims are permitted to worship there.

Netanyahu also reportedly invited Saudi officials to visit Islam's third-holiest site, the al-Aksa Mosque, located on the Temple Mount, to view firsthand that the status quo remains in place. No response has reportedly been given yet.

While Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have official diplomatic ties, recent reports suggest Jerusalem and Riyadh may consider efforts to establish economic connections that could set a precedent for normalizing relations.

White House sources did not comment on the report, but an administration official did say "We welcome the commitment of all sides to preserve the status quo on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. We urge all parties to continue their efforts to ensure the safety and security of this holy site.”

As the report on the Saudi response to the Temple Mount debacle emerged, the Palestinian Fatah movement was preparing to hold a 'Day of Rage' on Wednesday throughout the Palestinian territories in protest of developments in Jerusalem. Fatah has called for protests and mass prayer sessions in the major cities in the West Bank in a show of opposition to the new Israeli measures. 

Metal detectors at the Temple Mount (Marc Israel Sellem)

The new Israeli security measures were enacted in order to prevent the smuggling of firearms into the compound and install surveillance cameras to improve security. It was not disclosed, however, when and where the cameras will be placed.

Meanwhile, Israel has feared that Friday’s attack, in which three Israeli-Arab terrorists killed Border Police officers Haiel Stawi and Kamil Shnaan, could spark a third intifada. The Temple Mount is under Israeli control and Jordanian custodianship and is managed by the Islamic Wakf.

Hail Stawi, killed in a terrorist attack on the Temple Mount, is buried in the village of Maghar, July 14, 2017. (Israel Police)

On Monday, Muslim worshipers protested for the second day against the newly-installed metal detectors at the entrances to the Temple Mount and avoided entering the compound. As part of the protests, the worshipers conducted prayers outside the compound's gates and called on the police and the Israeli government to reverse the security measures.

The Wakf Muslim religious trust and other Muslim authorities released a statement on Monday calling on Muslims to uphold the protest.

Jerusalem District Police Commander, Maj.-Gen. Yoram Halevy said in an interview to Army Radio on Monday that despite the harsh response, Palestinians will get used to the metal detectors.

“We intend that anyone who wishes to enter the compound will be checked,” he said. “If that won’t be the situation we will shut all the gates, and we do not want to reach that,” he added.

“I assume that as time will pass by they will understand that it is not that bad,” Halevy added. “On Fridays, when I have to go shopping, I go through metal detectors in the Malha Mall. No one should be intimidated by that, it became a part of our lives.”

However, PLO executive committee member Mustafa Barghouti, who attended the prayer at the Lions’ Gate, responded to Halevy saying that despite restriction, Palestinians will find ways to enter the Temple Mount compound and bypass the new metal detectors.

“We have been under occupation for 50 years, and we will not ‘get used’ to the new injustice,” Barghouti told The Jerusalem Post. “People will try entering in every possible way without going through the electronic devices,” he added.

Reuters, Udi Shaham and Michael Wilner contributed to this report.

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