Security measures are being put in place in Jerusalem's Old City, specifically near the Temple Mount, after calls for public disturbances were made during local Friday morning Muslim prayer services, the Police foreign press spokesman said.
Police arrested 60 suspects involved in incitement to violence as a preventative measure against pre-planned rioting, part of the police preparations based on intelligence reports.Prayers at the compound of Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque passed off peacefully on Friday despite a week of tension over access to a corner of the compound.Israeli police had increased their presence over concerns of violence as thousands of Muslim worshipers gathered at the holy site, which is known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.
The police spokesman said anyone attempting to create disturbances throughout the day on Friday will be detained so that the Muslims seeking regular prayer services can do so in a peaceful manner.
The controversy started when the Islamic Wakf attempted unauthorized construction and excavations at the ancient Golden Gate, or Gate of Mercy.The dispute focused on a passageway of gates and a stairway leading to a hall that had been closed by Israeli authorities for years and was reopened on Friday by Muslim religious officials. Israeli police had heightened their presence throughout Jerusalem's walled old city to prevent any clashes from breaking out, the police spokesman said.The Temple Mount, holy to both Jews and Muslims, was among areas Israel liberated in the 1967 Six Day War with Jordan, which retains a stewardship role at the mosque. A court order called for the site to be closed and police chained up the site to prevent people from descending the stairs leading to the patio area. On Monday and Tuesday, dozens, accompanied by officials from the Wakf, tried to force their way into the area triggering scuffles with police officers.
The site has since been reopened, and on Thursday, several dozen protesters held a prayer vigil near the site demanding it remain open, according to Maan News. The site, which once housed the offices of the Islamic Heritage Committee, was closed by the Jerusalem Police in 2003 after it was revealed that the committee was involved in political activities and served as a meeting point for suspected terrorists. In 2017, a court issued an order to keep the site closed until further notice.In 1999, the Wakf employed bulldozers to construct a subterranean mosque on the Temple Mount, removing thousands of tons of soil and artifacts which were dumped in the nearby Kidron valley. That event led to the creation of the Temple Mount Sifting Project which has discovered numerous ancient artifacts in the rubble.Khaled Abu Toameh and Reuters contributed to this article.