Gantz ends West Bank closure amid Temple Mount violence

Hundreds of Palestinians arrested after violent 6 hour riot at the Temple Mount on Friday morning

 Palestinian protesters hurl stones towards Israeli security forces during clashes on the holy month of Ramadan at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City on April 15, 2022.  (photo credit: JAMAL AWAD/FLASH90)
Palestinian protesters hurl stones towards Israeli security forces during clashes on the holy month of Ramadan at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City on April 15, 2022.
(photo credit: JAMAL AWAD/FLASH90)

Israel lifted the closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip at midnight on Saturday while continuing to deploy reinforcements to the Seam Line and acting against terrorism.

The decision was made following a situational assessment by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi, the deputy head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the head of operations of the Israel Police.

It was made following a recommendation by the defense establishment that no closure was necessary for the coming days. Nevertheless, the extensive deployment of reinforcements of troops and police officers will continue “according to the outline formulated by the IDF,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

Gantz, thanking security forces for their activities throughout the weekend, said Israel will continue to act in a “targeted manner against terror and will stop anyone who seeks to violate public order.”

He also emphasized the importance of continuing to preserve freedom of worship.

The damage caused during clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces earlier today, at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City on April 15, 2022. (credit: JAMAL AWAD/FLASH90)The damage caused during clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces earlier today, at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City on April 15, 2022. (credit: JAMAL AWAD/FLASH90)

The IDF imposed a general closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Thursday. Israel is in the midst of a wave of terrorist attacks that have killed 14 citizens. Due to the tensions, the military reinforced its forces in the West Bank with thousands of troops from 16 combat battalions including special forces from commando units as part of its Operation Break the Wave.

Clashes broke out on Friday morning between Palestinians and Israeli security forces on the Temple Mount after a small group of protesters gathered stones and wood chunks to throw at the forces and at Jewish worshipers. Rioters also threw fireworks at security forces.

In a rare move, police entered al-Aqsa Mosque after Palestinians who had barricaded themselves inside following the morning prayer began throwing stones at officers. During the six hours of clashes, more than 470 rioters were arrested, including 65 minors.

According to the Red Crescent, 150 Palestinians were injured along with eight Israel Police officers.

Some Palestinians waved Hamas flags and threw stones and fireworks toward Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall. Palestinian media reported that police used tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets to break up the crowd that continued to protest after prayers ended.

“Rioters hoisted Hamas flags and threw stones at police,” Spokesman Eli Levy told Army Radio. “In order not to infringe on the freedom of worship, we waited until the end of prayers and then went in to disperse the rioters.” The Israel Police later added that it will not allow rioters to disturb the public right to prayer.

Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev said Israel has “said time and again that our goal is to allow freedom of worship to everyone on the Temple Mount. That has not changed.”

He commended police for acting bravely, enduring risks to their own safety by blocking rioters who gathered stones and metal-ware to hurt other worshipers.

“We have no interest in the Mount becoming a center of violence,” he said. “It will hurt everyone involved.”

The minister took to social media on Friday afternoon, stating that he had conducted a situational assessment with the Israel Police chief and Shin Bet regarding the incident on the Temple Mount earlier in the day.

“I reiterate that we intend to work for freedom of worship at the Western Wall and Temple Mount,” he said. “The police officers acted during the morning with no choice, and only after it was clear that if they did not act, the prayers of tens and thousands of Muslims would not be able to end quietly.

“We are in a very complex time period, and it is important to us that despite great sensitivity, Muslims will be able to pray on the Temple Mount unhindered – certainly during Ramadan – as well as Jews at the Western Wall,” Bar Lev said. “We will continue to work for freedom of worship on the mount.”

The international community, including Jordan, condemned the entry of security forces into the mosque.

United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland tweeted that he was “deeply concerned by the deteriorating security situation” on the Temple Mount.

“Provocations on the Holy Esplanade must stop now. Allowing tensions to spiral further only risks another escalation,” he tweeted.

The Jordanian Foreign Ministry harshly condemned the actions of Israeli security forces on the mount, calling it a “serious violation” of Israel’s responsibility to the site.

The office of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel was turning a political disagreement into a religious war, pinning the responsibility on Israel and police action on the mount.

Sheikh Omar Al-Kiswani from the Aqsa Mosque had called on the Palestinian people to come to the Temple Mount on Friday and defend it, Palestinian media reported.

Terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip including Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) also condemned what they described as an assault on Palestinian worshipers and called on Palestinians everywhere to support their “defense” of al-Aqsa.

“We condemn the barbaric aggression of the occupation soldiers against the worshipers in al-Aqsa. Our brothers in Jerusalem are not alone in the fight for al-Aqsa,” Hamas said. “We call on the masses in the West Bank and within the Green Line to stand by our brothers in Jerusalem.”

The PIJ echoed the sentiment, warning that unless Israel “lifted its aggressive hand from al-Aqsa Mosque, confrontation will be sooner and stronger.”

There was criticism from within the coalition itself, with Ra’am head Mansour Abbas telling the Arab-Israeli A-Shams radio broadcast that he passed on the message to all relevant political and police figures that the Temple Mount is a redline for the party, which is a weak link in the stability of the coalition.

“Access to al-Aqsa is a religious Muslim right that keeps getting hampered by daily incursions into it by Israeli security forces,” Abbas said. “They prompt angry responses.”

Ra’am MK Mazen Ghanaim also warned Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in a letter that he would pull out of the coalition if police activity on the Temple Mount was not halted. The coalition is currently being held together by the minimum of 60 seats.

The Joint List of Arab political parties released a statement after the larger clashes calmed down, saying: “The occupation is trying to escalate matters. Keep your hands off of al-Aqsa and off of Jerusalem,” it said, condemning the arrests and restriction of movement.

Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi arrived on the mount after it was reopened to worshipers.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall and the Holy Sites, called on Muslim religious authorities to work to stop the violence.

ONE OF the reasons given for calls to arms seen on social media in recent days is that some Jewish worshipers would try to perform a ritual sacrifice on a lamb ahead of Passover.

“Offering up an animal sacrifice on the Temple Mount is forbidden by the Israeli Rabbinate,” Rabinowitz said.

Al-Aqsa Mosque guards on Thursday evening arrested three Jews who were attempting to sneak into the Temple Mount through the Council Gate while wearing Arab clothing, according to Palestinian reports.

Those arrests came as large crowds of Muslims were conducting evening prayers at the site.

Tensions around the site have risen in recent days amid warnings by Palestinian factions against plans by fringe groups to conduct a Passover sacrifice at the site on Friday. Israeli officials have stressed that doing so is forbidden and a number of Jews who were planning to do so have been arrested.

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain condemned Israel’s actions on the Temple Mount on Friday.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and US State Department spokesman Ned Price called on all sides to “act with restraint” in separate statements that they issued.

The US statement was more extensive, with Price adding that both sides should also “avoid provocative actions and rhetoric and preserve the historic status quo on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.

“We urge Palestinian and Israeli officials to work cooperatively to lower tensions and ensure the safety of everyone,” he said.

Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.