Islamic authorities in Jerusalem called on Palestinians on Sunday to avoid entering the Temple Mount, following a decision by Israel to place checkpoints with metal detectors at the compound gates. The site was reopened after a deadly attack on Friday killed two Israeli policemen.
At this stage, only two of 10 gates – The Gate of the Tribes (Bab al-Asbat) and The Council Gate (Bab al-Majlis) – will open to the public, a police spokesman told The Jerusalem Post.
The decision to reopen the Temple Mount for prayer services followed moves to place metal detectors next to each gate to monitor and 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.
Shortly thereafter, members of the Jerusalem Islamic Wakf, the Muslim religious body that oversees the compound, protested the new security measures and called on Muslim worshipers to avoid entering the compound. The Muslim leaders said Wakf personnel would not return to the mosques for the time being.
“This is a severe violation of the status quo,” said Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani, the director of al-Aksa Mosque, located on the Temple Mount.
In a statement to the press, al-Kiswani said prayers would take place outside the gates until the metal detectors were removed, demanding a return to the way things were in 1967 when there was no police presence at the site.
He then asked: “How could they check hundreds of thousands of people who come here every Ramadan?” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is on a diplomatic trip to Paris, said he believes the status quo should remain unchanged but that the metal detectors are there to stay and security cameras should be installed to prevent similar attacks in the future.
Outside the Gate of the Tribes, some 300 people gathered to protest the situation, and performed the noon prayer at the spot.
Some of those gathered called on Jordan’s King Abdullah and the rest of the Muslim world to interfere and help to return the security situation to its status before the attack. Others were heard shouting at police: “Disgrace, enough with that, you are suffocating us! al-Aksa belongs to Muslims!” They also chanted: “With blood and spirit we will liberate al-Aksa.”
Site of terror attack on Temple Mount July 14
The protesters, in fact, helped enforce the canceled ban, urging those who wished to enter not to proceed. Nevertheless, according to a police statement, hundreds of worshipers entered the compound.
Most of the day passed in relative quiet, though a couple of violent incidents were reported.
At approximately 5 p.m. the protesters were evacuated from the plaza of the Gate of the Tribes by police after violent clashes were sparked.
According to the local residents, the violence began when one of the protesters threw a bottle of water at three passing Jewish women.
According to a Red Crescent medic at the scene, four people were injured during the clashes.
A police spokesman said one suspect was arrested for attempting to attack a police officer during the incident.
MK Taleb Abu Arar (Joint List), who arrived at the Gate of Tribes, told the Post the security steps taken by Israel were contributing to the deterioration of the situation, and that placing the metal detectors would bring more bloodshed.
“It is far more than breaching the status quo. The Israeli government is defiling the mosques. They took advantage of the situation to impose a complete control over the compound... This move is fanning the flames and I see Israel as only the responsible cause of this situation,” he said.
Abu Arar said the situation was unacceptable to the Palestinian people and also called for avoiding entering the compound.
“This is our mosque and when we enter it we want to feel that,” he said.
“The Jews have no rights whatsoever to this mosque – it is for Muslims only. We will not accept being checked every time we want to get inside. We are asking to go back to normal and enter freely, as it was three day ago,” he added.
Fatah vice chairman Mahmoud al-Aloul said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is holding “intensive phone calls” with international parties to reverse the new Israeli security measures in and around the Temple Mount.
Aloul also accused Israel of trying to impose a new reality on the Temple Mount.
“Israel is seeking to realize a plan to divide al-Aksa Mosque in terms of time and place,” he told a meeting of Palestinian political, religious and civil society leaders. “It [Israel] is exploiting the latest Jerusalem operation to begin work on its plan.”
Meanwhile, Temple Mount activists reported that, despite the police statements, Jews were not allowed to enter the compound.
The adjacent streets to the Old City, Sultan Suleiman and Salah al-Din, remained closed to traffic on Sunday, and police checkpoints were scattered around the area, including at the gates of the Old City itself, to monitor the situation. Over the weekend, police and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) personnel scanned the compound for weapons and reportedly found several knives on the premises.Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.