Long queues reported at Temple Mount

Compound has certain allotted "capacity" for non-Muslim visitors despite large police presence at site.

Temple mount work 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Temple mount work 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
A large number of predominantly Christian tourists visiting for Easter, together with stringent police security checks and group restrictions, are creating massive lines at the entrance to Jerusalem's Temple Mount, officials said Sunday. In a scene that has replayed itself over the last couple of weeks, the queue for non-Muslims to enter the site on Sunday morning stretched from the entrance to the compound at the Mughrabi Gate, adjacent to the Western Wall, all the way past the Dung Gate. The site, which is open to non-Muslims Sunday through Thursday mornings, has seen a sharp increase in visitors over the last year, with the numbers increasing even further this year. According to decades-old regulations in place at the Temple Mount, Israel maintains overall security control at the site, while the Wakf, or Islamic Trust, is charged with day-to-day administration of the compound. Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby attributed the recent long lines to a large number of predominantly Christian visitors to the site along with the strict police security checks at the entrance, which include metal detectors and police questioning. He noted that every group of visitors that enters the Temple Mount is necessarily accompanied by a police escort, adding that the compound has a certain allotted "capacity" for non-Muslim visitors despite a large police presence at the site. As a result, sometimes groups are required to wait at the entrance to the site until previous groups exit the compound, similar to the situation in a movie theater, Ben-Ruby said. On Sunday, hundreds of tourists, easily identified by their white sun caps, queued in the sun-drenched plaza for more than an hour awaiting entrance to the site. "When things are peaceful in Jerusalem and tourism is on the rise, there is no reason why the police should prevent visitors from entering the Temple Mount," said Eilat Mazar, a prominent archeologist and spokeswoman for the nonpartisan Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount. The non-profit group of Israeli archeologists and public thinkers, which was established in the wake of Islamist archeological damage to the site, has long called for the Temple Mount to be open to visitors without restrictions in keeping with the importance of the country's top historical archeological site. Earlier this month, Jerusalem police chief Aharon Franco said that a top police goal was to keep the Temple Mount open to people all of faiths, after recent years when restrictions were imposed on Jewish and Christian visits to the site due to concerns over renewed Palestinian violence. According to police statistics, nearly 240,000 tourists visited the Temple Mount last year, a whopping 41.4 percent increase over the year before. About 5,200 Israeli Jews visited the site last year, an increase of 6.3% compared to the year before. In comparison, hundreds of thousands of Muslims routinely flock to the site during Ramadan, while thousands attend weekly Friday prayers.