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(photo credit: AP)
Following the arrest of three Arab men at an entrance to the Temple Mount in east Jerusalem, police shut down access for Jews and non-Jews alike on Thursday, a move that was particularly frustrating for Jews who had come to commemorate Tisha Be'Av.
The arrests Thursday afternoon came just after the gate to the Temple Mount had been opened at 1:30 p.m., when long lines of Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druse had gathered in the blazing heat to trek to the holy site.
Jerusalem Police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said the arrests were made after people began shouting and pushing at the gate. An investigation is under way to determine whether the agitation was related to Tisha Be'Av observances.
Tisha Be'Av is the day set aside for mourning the destruction of both temples and remembering Jewish persecution throughout history.
Visitors can typically climb a long, wood-covered ramp to the top of the Temple Mount most afternoons, Sunday through Thursday. Ben-Ruby said police had closed access to the area Thursday because they feared an outbreak of further violence.
For a group of 40 or so protesters who had gathered at the Western Wall to urge the government to wrest the Temple Mount from Muslim control, the closure added insult to what they saw as the original injury in 1967, when Israel relinquished administration of the area after the Six-Day War.
"So many Jews are standing and want to go up; this is the weakness of our leadership," said Gershon Salomon, leader of the Temple Mount Faithful protesters, some of whom wore torn sackcloth as a sign of mourning. "It is a shame on Tisha Be'Av to close the gates of the Temple Mount before Jews, to allow it to be open for Muslims, Arabs and the enemies, the foreigners who control the Temple Mount as a foreign occupation."
Salomon, who spoke as the Islamic call to prayer echoed behind him, said his group planned to file a petition with the Supreme Court condemning Muslim control of the site.
The protesters were challenged by a young haredi man, who said the Torah forbade Jews to go up to the Temple Mount because of its holiness. A Chief Rabbinate notice posted at the gate entrance warns patrons they would violate Torah Law by entering the Temple Mount area.
For Shifra Hoffman, executive director of the organization Shuva ("return" in Hebrew), the Temple Mount is crucial to fulfilling Biblical prophesies.
"There is a destiny here," Hoffman said. "God has ordained that the Jews come home to our land and build the Temple Mount. And the longer we delay it, the worse it will get because we'll receive the punishment."
Hoffman passed out fliers condemning what she claimed was an impending holocaust in the US triggered by the current economic crisis. She urged American Jews to make aliya and help rebuild the Temple.