Israel to reopen Temple Mount following attack, tread carefully amid heightened tensions

As Israel continues to reel from Friday's attack, in which two police officers were slain, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces new security measures to protect the area of Temple Mount.

Netanyahu says Temple Mount to reopen Sunday amid heavy security (credit: GPO)
Temple Mount will reopen on Sunday after a two-day closure following Friday’s terror attack, in which two Israeli policemen were killed.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to gradually allow worshipers, visitors and tourists to return to the site after holding a security consultation prior to his departure for a five-day trip to Paris and Hungary.
Additional safety measures will be taken to protect the area, including the installation of cameras outside the Temple Mount and metal detectors at its entrances.
“I decided that as of tomorrow, in the framework of our policy of maintaining the status-quo, we will gradually open the Temple Mount, but with increased security measures,” Netanyahu said.
“This evening, I held a discussion with top security leadership, and I instructed that metal detectors be placed at the entrance gates to the Temple Mount. We will also install security cameras on poles outside the Temple Mount which give almost complete control over what goes on there,” Netanyahu said.
"Before the onset of Shabbat [Friday, 14 July 2017], I spoke with the parents of our two heroic policemen who were murdered on the Temple Mount. I sent them a hug from every citizen of Israel and participation in their awful grief. Also before Shabbat, I directed that the mourners' tents of the families of the contemptible murderers be destroyed,” he added.
Israel had assured the Trump Administration and the Palestinian Authority that it had no plans to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, as Friday’s terror attack by the Temple Mount threatened to spark a third intifada.
“The status quo will be preserved,” the Prime Minister’s Office said on Friday.
Site of terror attack on Temple Mount July 14
Later that day, he and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas held a rare phone call, in which the Palestinian leader condemned Friday’s shooting attack on the Temple Mount, the official PA media agency Wafa reported.
“The [PA] president expressed his strong rejection and condemnation of the incident that took place at the holy al-Aksa Mosque,” Wafa reported. “He affirmed his rejection of any violent incident [carried out] by any party, especially in houses of worship.”
The al-Aqsa Mosque is a mosque on the Temple Mount.
The PA president rarely condemns attacks on Israelis.
Netanyahu told his Palestinian counterpart that there would be no change to the status quo on the Temple Mount, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
A number of Palestinian leaders on Friday expressed concerns that Israel would exploit the attack to make changes to the status quo on the Temple Mount.
The Prime Minister also called for all parties to calm the situation in Jerusalem.
Abbas and Netanyahu last spoke in November, after the PA sent firefighters to Israel to help put out fires around the country.
According to Wafa, Abbas’s office spoke with Jordanian officials in an effort to reopen the Temple Mount. Jordan is considered the custodian of the Temple Mount.
Israeli officials have also assured the Trump administration that Israel has no intention of changing the status quo security arrangement on the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Holy Sanctuary, the White House said in a statement on Saturday.
Describing a shooting attack that killed two Israeli police officers as a "heartbreaking" act of terror, the president's press secretary strongly condemned the event, which took place at ground zero of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"Yesterday, the Holy City of Jerusalem– which means 'City of Peace'– became a scene of terror," the White House statement reads. "There must be zero tolerance for terrorism. It is incompatible with achieving peace and we must condemn it in the strongest terms, defeat it, and eradicate it." "The attack forced the government of Israel to temporarily close the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif to conduct its investigation," the press secretary said. "Israel has assured the world that it has no intention to alter the status of this holy site, a decision which the United States applauds and welcomes.”
The president's special adviser on international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, similarly condemned the attack on Friday, praising Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for swiftly speaking out against the attackers.
Even though the terrorists were Israeli Arabs from Umm el-Fahm, Greenblatt wrote in his tweet that he hopes “Abbas helps PM bring those responsible to justice.”
Greenblatt, who tweeted that his thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims, said, “We must defeat all forms of terror!” He also posted a tweet calling Hamas’s and Islamic Jihad’s celebrations of the attacks “Intolerable.”
“While Greenblatt wrote that Abbas called Netanyahu, in actuality it was Netanyahu who initiated the call. During the call, Netanyahu called on Abbas to stop Fatah from calling on worshipers to go to the Aksa Mosque.
The UN and the EU also condemned the attack. “There can be no justification for such a crime or any act of terror. The EU offers its condolences to the families of the victims of the shootings,” the EU spokesperson in Brussels said.
In an unusually strong statement, the EU added that the attack was “not only a crime against people on duty, but also a profanation of this holy site,” its spokesperson said in Brussels. “Jerusalem is a city sacred to three religions. The status quo at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif must be preserved. The EU calls on all leaders to condemn violence and all acts of terrorism when they occur, and to work towards restoring the dignity and safety of this holy site,” the EU spokesperson said.
As a result of Friday morning’s attack, the US Consulate-General in Jerusalem issued a rare directive to all US government employees and their family members to refrain from entering the Old City until Monday morning at 9 a.m. unless they had prior approval from the legation.
The original advisory issued soon after the attack from the US Consulate-General was titled: “Security Message for US Citizens – Potential for Violence and Unrest in and Around Old City Jerusalem.”
That statement said the directive was “due to a major security incident that occurred in the vicinity of the Lions’ Gate of the Old City,” and called for government employees to refrain from entering the Old City until Saturday morning at 8:00 a.m.
On Saturday morning, the consulate updated the advisory and said the ban was in effect until Monday morning because of "continued tensions and the potential for clashes in the Old City." Both statements recommended that “private US citizens take into consideration these restrictions,” in addition to the standing State Department guidance on travel to Israel, Jerusalem and the West Bank.
That travel advisory, dated April 11, reads: “Within Israel and the West Bank, the possibility of random violence continues to exist and can happen without warning. The frequency of attacks has declined significantly since a rise in political and religious tensions led to a spike in violence in October 2015. US citizens have been killed and wounded in recent attacks, though there is no indication they were specifically targeted based on nationality.”