Jordan’s foreign minister on Tuesday criticized Israel for the record number of Jews who visited the Temple Mount on the fast day commemorating the destruction of the Jewish Temples that stood there.
Some 1,300 Jewish visitors made a pilgrimage to the Temple Mount on Tuesday, days after Muslim worshipers resumed their own visits to the holy site after days of boycotts and protests against security measures that Arabs said broke the delicate status quo there.
Speaking at an emergency Executive Committee meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Ayman Safadi noted the large number of Jewish visitors and said while the crisis over the Temple Mount had ended, more unrest could be in the offing.
“The number of extremists who stormed Al-Aqsa today stands at a record number, greater than any other since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967,” Safadi told the gathered foreign ministers from 57 countries in Istanbul, using the Muslim name for the compound which also houses the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
However, “many more dangerous crises will erupt as a result of continued Israeli violations if Israel does not uproot the sources of the tension, if the occupation doesn’t end, if East Jerusalem is not independent and not the capital of the sovereign Palestinian State along the 1967 lines,” Safadi warned.
Jordan, from whom Israel captured the Old City in 1967, sees itself as the custodian of Jerusalem’s holy sites and funds the Waqf Islamic Trust, which administers the Temple Mount.
Tensions between Jerusalem and Amman have ramped up recently after an Israeli guard at the embassy in Amman killed two Jordanians, apparently after he was attacked by one of them. After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was photographed hugging the guard upon his return home, Jordan’s King Abdullah said the incident would have diplomatic consequences.
Over 1,300 Jews visited the Temple Mount Tuesday for the Tisha B’av fast commemorating the destruction of the Jewish temples that once stood at the site.
The number was a large leap from the hundred or so Jews who normally visit the site, where they are not allowed to pray.
Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said nine Jewish visitors were removed for violating the guidelines. She said three Jews and one Muslim were arrested after a minor skirmish.
Azzam al-Khatib, director of the Waqf, said of the large number of visitors, “This is unprecedented, unacceptable and should stop.”
MK Yehudah Glick (LIkud), an activist for increased Jewish presence on the Temple Mount, praised the high number and said it showed Jews “were not afraid” to visit the site, despite high tensions. “The people of Israel are returning to the Mount,” he declared.
The Mount is considered the holiest place in Judaism, where the two ancient Temples once stood, and the third holiest in Islam. For years, most rabbi forbade visits to the site for fear of treading on holy ground.
Sefardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, who continues to hold that view, harshly criticized the Jews who ascended the Temple Mount.
“Today, 1,043 Jews have ascended to the Temple Mount,” Yosef said Tuesday morning. “It is necessary to remind them that ascending the Temple Mount is forbidden by Jewish law, and those Jews who ascend to the Temple Mount desecrate its sanctity.”
Yosef was reiterating the official position of the Israeli Rabbinate since Israel took possession of the Old City and Temple Mount in 1967’s Six Day War.
‘We must prepare for the next round’
The IOC conference in Istanbul was called after Israel installed metal detectors and cameras at the entrances to the Temple Mount following a July 14 terror attack in which three Israeli Arabs shot dead two Israeli policemen with weapons they had smuggled into the compound.
Muslim worshipers had refused to enter the Temple Mount until the security installations at entrances to the site were removed, while Palestinian protesters staged near-daily protests in and around East Jerusalem and the West Bank, some of which turned violent.
The clashes left five Palestinians dead. A week after the Temple Mount terror attack, a Palestinian terrorist broke into a home in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank and stabbed three members of a family to death while they were having Shabbat dinner. In a Facebook post hours before his murderous spree, the terrorist cited the events surrounding the Temple Mount as a main motivator.
Speaking at the opening of the meeting, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki accused Netanyahu of continuously trying to change the status quo in place for several decades, according to which Muslims have the right to pray on the esplanade both day and night, while Jews and non-Muslims can go there only at certain times, but are not permitted to pray there.
“Netanyahu will try again to impose his status quo and we must prepare for the next round, which could happen very soon and be very tough,” Malki said.
Israel has denied that it intends to change the status quo on the holy site.
The lifting of Israeli measures “is a small victory in a long battle for freedom,” Malki added.
Faed Mustafa, the Palestinian ambassador to Turkey, told the Voice of Palestine radio station that he hoped the meeting would send a message of support to Palestinians about East Jerusalem and would discuss practical steps to preserve and protect the Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem, the Palestinian Authority official news agency Wafa reported.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, whose country is the current president of the OIC, called on Muslim countries to support the Palestinians “with deeds and not words.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.