Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly instructed that the Temple Mount compound be gradually reopened from Sunday morning, after it was temporarily closed following a terror attack on Friday morning in which three Arab Israelis shot dead two Israeli police officers.
Israel rejected a demand by Jordan Friday evening to immediately reopen the mount after it was shut for security reasons in the wake of the attack. But Channel 2 news said Netanyahu had ordered a gradual reopening of the incendiary holy site from Sunday.
Netanyahu also reportedly ordered Israel’s security services, which are responsible for the security oversight at the mount, to introduce more effective security procedures. In the past, there has been talk of installing cameras at the site, and placing metal detectors and/or other security measures to try to prevent weaponry being brought into the compound. Jordan, which is responsible for the religious administration of the site, has hitherto opposed such measures.
The three assailants carried out the attack with two Carlo-style submachine guns, a pistol and a knife, police said. It was not immediately known how they had brought the weaponry into the compound.
Netanyahu late Friday also ordered the dismantling of mourning tents set up by the families of the gunmen, all of whom came from the northern Israeli town of Umm al-Fahm.
Israel’s decision to close the Old City compound after the attack — unprecedented since 1969 — was partly to check for other weaponry there, and also to investigate whether the assailants had received help from inside the compound, TV reports said.
Israel criticized Jordan for calling to “immediately reopen” the site after the attack, with one official telling Israeli TV that “instead of condemning the attack, Jordan chose to attack Israel, which is protecting worshipers and maintaining freedom of worship in the place.”
“Israel will not tolerate harm to the holy places and is maintaining the status quo there. It should be expected that all sides involved, including Jordan, exercise restraint and avoid fanning the flames,” said the unnamed official
Jordan, which administers the site through the Waqf, had called on Israel to “reopen Al-Aqsa mosque and the Haram al-Sharif (compound) immediately,” in reference to the complex which houses the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock sanctuary and which Israel refers to as the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism and third-holiest in Islam.
The Jordanian royal family is officially the custodian of the mosque atop the Temple Mount, and exercises its authority there though Israel is responsible for security.
According to a report Friday, among the suspects detained in the attack was at least one Waqf official who police suspect may have aided the terrorists, who all came from the northern Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm.
The terrorists attacked the officers in an alleyway, coming from the direction of the Temple Mount and fled back there as other officers gave chase. The police then opened fire, shooting the terrorists dead inside the complex.
Reports throughout Friday said the two police officers were killed just outside the Temple Mount compound. However, Channel 2 news reported late Friday that the second policeman may have been killed by the assailants on the mount itself, after they had fled back.
Jerusalem Police chief Yoram Halevi said Friday that officers were sweeping the Temple Mount, with the help of the Waqf, to look for further weapons and that police would make their recommendations on when to reopen the site to the government once that operation ends.
The Jordanian statement, issued by Jordanian Minister for Media Affairs Muhammad al Momani, called on the Israeli government to avoid taking actions that change the “historical situation” at the complex and reopen it to worshipers.
“The Jordanian government opposes any harm against Muslims in carrying out their religious worship in their holy places, freely and with no obstacles,” the statement said.
“Jordan has used and will use all tools, diplomatic and legal, in order to halt any attempt to alter the legal and historical status quo in Jerusalem,” Momani said in the statement.
Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said earlier while standing outside the Old City in Jerusalem, that the terrorists who carried out the attack “violated the holy place” and that Israel remained committed to defending holy sites regardless of religion holds them sacred.
Raed Salah, the oft-jailed head of the outlawed Northern Branch of Israel’s Islamic Movement, on Friday blamed Israel for the entire incident, declaring that the Israeli government “is responsible for all the bloodshed” at the Temple Mount, including the deaths of the Arab-Israeli gunmen, whom he called martyrs.