Police detained seven Jewish men suspected of planning to sacrifice goats in the Old City of Jerusalem on Friday in honor of the Passover holiday, which begins at sundown.
Two of the young men were picked up on Friday morning on their way to carry out the sacrifice, but were stopped by police before they could do so. Upon their arrest, police spotted a second goat that had been left unattended, which they later connected to a third suspect who was subsequently detained.
Just a few hours later, officers picked up another four people — all minors — who had a third goat they intended to sacrifice, police said.
The charge against the seven suspects was “disturbing the peace,” a police spokesperson said.
In ancient times, Jews used to sacrifice a lamb on Passover Eve and eat it as part of the traditional seder meal. Nearly all Jews forego this ritual today. However, members of the Samaritan religion still carry out this practice.
The three goats confiscated by police on Friday were unharmed and have been handed over to the municipality’s animal control department, the police said.
Authorities had banned several right-wing activists from entering Jerusalem during the Passover holiday, which begins Friday evening, citing information they intended to carry out sacrificial rituals on the Temple Mount.
“The police are working and will continue to work with determination against any attempt to disturb the public peace and security, without favoritism,” the Jerusalem police said.
“We expect the public discourse during the holiday period to display tolerance and mutual respect,” the spokesperson added.
Two members of a group called “Return to the Temple Mount,” which advocates the construction of a Third Temple, have been barred from the city for the duration of the holiday. Members of the group had reportedly planned to carry out a ritual slaughter of a sacrificial animal at the site, as was customary on Passover in ancient times.
Jewish visits to the Temple Mount are allowed by agreement between Israel and the Jordanian custodians of the site, but worship at the site is forbidden.
The Temple Mount has been at the center of months-long tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, who fear a growing Jewish presence at the site that is also home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Israel is concerned that Jewish visits during the week-long Passover holiday to the Mount could trigger further Palestinian unrest.
Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich on Sunday announced a renewed open-ended ban on Israeli lawmakers visiting the flashpoint location.
The directive was issued in a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which Alsheich wrote: “In light of attempts by many extremist elements from both sides to create provocations… I surmise that at this time, ascent to the Temple Mount by Knesset members is likely to result in an exacerbation of tensions and an escalation of incidents that would cause a real endangerment of the security of the state.”
Netanyahu warned last week that “extremist elements” were attempting to sow unrest in Jerusalem and other areas in efforts to renew violence between Israelis and Palestinians ahead of the Passover holiday.
The prime minister said security forces would increase their readiness to counter those attempts amid a wave of Palestinian attacks that began more than six months ago and has lately been ebbing.
Israel also closed off the West Bank at midnight on Thursday night, amid fears of attacks by the Hamas terror group during the holiday. The Islamist terror organization was behind Monday’s suicide bombing on a Jerusalem bus that wounded 20 people. The closure is to last until Saturday night.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.