Security forces were braced for a standoff with Muslim worshipers in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday afternoon after the security cabinet decided to leave the metal detectors at the entrances to the Temple Mount.
"Israel is committed to maintaining the status quo on the Temple Mount and to protecting the safety of worshipers and visitors,” the Prime Minister's Office said. The Tel Aviv meeting began late Thursday night and ended in the early hours of the morning.
The cabinet authorized the police to make any decisions necessary to ensure free access to the holy site, known to Muslims as the Al-Haram/Al-Sharif, while maintaining public order and security.
The cabinet essentially adopted the police stance, which sided with keeping the metal detectors. In addition, it was decided to restrict the entrance to the Temple Mount compound to the age of 50 and above.
The police said in a statement on Friday morning that it was decided to heighten security in and around the old city.
"Police and border police units are mobilized in all areas and neighborhoods and will respond to any incidents or disturbances throughout the day," the statement reads.
The area of the Old City and the adjacent streets - including Sultan Souliman street - will be closed for traffic.
The statement added that there are intelligence indications that extremists are planning to "disrupt the order violently," and that the forces on the ground are prepared to secure the Friday prayers.
Thousands of officers have been stationed near Temple Mount and the IDF has allocated five battalions to be used if necessary. On Friday morning the police prevented buses of Muslim worshipers from entering Jerusalem.
The Shin Bet (Israel’s Security Service) had argued against maintaining the metal detectors fearing it would lead to violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told Channel 2 that “once the red line has been crossed of automatic weapons on the Temple Mount [as seen in last Friday’s terrorist attack], there is a need to change the security arrangements.” He said the metal detectors should remain because the focus should be on preventing future terrorist attacks.
Jerusalem Police head Asst. Chief Yoram Halevy said his officers could deal with any threats, so there was no need to remove the metal detectors.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said that he’s backing the police and that keeping the metal detectors is the right decision.
“The decision of Jerusalem Police District Commander Yoram Halevy to place these metal detectors near the Temple Mount is a brave decision,” said Barkat, “because this time last week we had two policemen killed. He is taking responsibility that things like this will not happen again.”
Barkat added that Israel should not be intimidated by threats and should not reward terrorism by backing down: "I welcome the police on their courageous decisions and cabinet for backing them up."
“This is not a political issue, but a security related,” Barkat added. “No one is trying the change the status quo on Temple Mount, and I call on all Muslim residents to calm the spirits, avoid violence and listen to the police.”
Labor chairman Avi Gabbay said it was a mistake that the security cabinet decided to pass the buck to the police but he said that he believes the police and the IDF will stand up to the security challenge before them.
Zionist Union MK Omer Bar Lev, a former commander of the IDF's Sayeret Matkal unit, said "the State of Israel fell into the trap laid for them by the terrorists to change our conflict with the Palestinians to a religious conflict between Islam and us."
Bar Lev, who stated earlier this week that the metal detectors should be removed, accused Netanyahu and the Security Cabinet of "running from responsibility by leaving decisions to the police and rejecting the recommendations of the IDF and the Shin Bet security service."
Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria, a former Jerusalem Deputy Mayor, said that in order to prevent an explosion on the Temple Mount, the security cabinet decision should have accompanied by intensive outreach work to the moderate Arab civil leaders of Jerusalem.
"Jerusalem is a complicated city and therefore solutions for it must be complex as well," she said.
The situation was tense on Thursday night, with Muslims throwing stones and glass bottles at officers as they left evening prayers outside the Old City’s Lions’ Gate, according to police spokeswoman Luba Samri. Police responded with riot dispersal methods and five police officers were lightly injured, she added. Over 20 Palestinians were also injured, according to media reports.
The US and Jordan had worked behind the scenes to help Israel find a solution to the crisis that began last Friday, when three Israeli-Arab terrorists killed two policemen by Lions’ Gate
. The terrorists were then killed in a shootout in the Temple Mount compound.
Fatah and the Wakf Islamic trust called on Jerusalem mosques to remain closed on Friday so worshipers could go to the Temple Mount.
“We object to these metal detectors because they seize the control we have as the Wakf to direct al-Aksa Mosque,” said al-Aksa Mosque director Sheikh Omar Kiswani. “This is a breach for an internal case: Al-Aksa Mosque is for Muslims – only for Muslims – and we will never accept these metal detectors.”
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh called on Palestinians to head to the Temple Mount.
“My clear message to the Zionist enemy is that al-Aksa and Jerusalem are a red line,” said Haniyeh. “I say to the Zionist enemy that the policy of closure and of implementing punishment measures against the Jerusalemites and the holy sites will never pass.
You [Israelis] never learn from history, and do not read geography.
You are blinded by your power. My clear word to you is that you should stop, you are lighting a fire.”
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah met in Ramallah with a group of European Union diplomats, and warned that the security situation could deteriorate if Israel continued in its attempts to change the status quo, according to WAFA, the Palestinian news agency.
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov called for calm.
“I welcome the commitment of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to uphold and respect the status quo at the holy sites, and Palestinian President Abbas’s firm condemnation of violence, specifically the deadly attack on two Israeli policemen on 14 July,” he said.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said on Wednesday that the US was “very concerned about tensions surrounding the Temple Mount/ Haram Al-Sharif, a site holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians, and calls upon the State of Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to make a good faith effort to reduce tensions, to find a solution that assures public safety and the security of the site and maintains the status quo.”Gil Hoffman and Udi Shaham contributed to this article.
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