Israel Police says Temple Mount closure not a change to status quo
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Israel Police says Temple Mount closure not a change to status quo

Clearing of holy site intended to facilitate weapons search and ensure public order after deadly attack, statement says

Border Police officers walk on the Temple Mount after a shooting attack in the area left three people injured, two of them seriously, on July 14, 2017. (Israel Police)
Border Police officers walk on the Temple Mount after a shooting attack in the area left three people injured, two of them seriously, on July 14, 2017. (Israel Police)

Israel announced that it was closing the Temple Mount complex to visitors for the day and would search the holy site for weapons, following a deadly terror attack in the Old City of Jerusalem on Friday morning.

A police statement said “the closure of the mount was done for security reasons, to ensure that no weapons [remain at the site] and to secure public order, and of course does not indicate a change in the status quo.”

Just after 7:00 a.m. on Friday, three Arab Israeli terrorists opened fire on a group of police officers, standing just outside the Temple Mount compound. Two of the officers were hit and seriously wounded. A third was struck by shrapnel and suffered light injuries.

The three terrorists behind the attack, residents of the Arab city of Umm al-Fahm, were shot dead by other police officers on the scene, a police spokesperson said.

After the attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened a meeting with top defense officials, during which they decided to close the holy site for the day, a dramatic move given that Fridays are a holy day in Islam, when many travel to the Temple Mount to pray.

Following similar cases of attacks in the Old City, Israel has in the past restricted entry to young men, but allowed it for everyone else. A general ban is exceedingly rare.

Crime scene investigators collect evidence from the scene of a shooting attack near the Temple Mount complex in the Old City of Jerusalem on July 14, 2017. (Israel Police)
Crime scene investigators collect evidence from the scene of a shooting attack near the Temple Mount complex in the Old City of Jerusalem on July 14, 2017. (Israel Police)

In a statement, the government announced that security forces would conduct searches of the site in order to find any weapons hidden on the Temple Mount.

The police also set up checkpoints around the Old City of Jerusalem, stopping and frisking people deemed suspicious.

Border Police officers deployed in the Old City of Jerusalem after a shooting attack on the Temple Mount left three people injured, two of them seriously, on July 14, 2017. (Israel Police)
Border Police officers deployed in the Old City of Jerusalem after a shooting attack on the Temple Mount left three people injured, two of them seriously, on July 14, 2017. (Israel Police)

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who is responsible for the police, called the attack “an extremely serious event which crossed all red lines. The investigation is ongoing. We will need to reevaluate all of the security arrangements on the Temple Mount and its environs. I call on all public leaders to act to calm the situation and ensure quiet in Jerusalem.”

In the aftermath of the attack, many right-wing politicians and activists called to change the long-standing arrangements at the holy site that allow Muslim prayer there but forbid Jewish prayer and religious rituals.

However, Netanyahu fended off those requests with a blunt statement from his office saying, “the status quo will be protected.”

According to the statement, the telephone consultation convened by the prime minister was attended by Erdan, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Eisenkot, Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman, Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai and others.

Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Ze'ev Elkin arrives for the weekly government meeting at the Prime Minister's Office, Jerusalem, June 19, 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Ze’ev Elkin. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin said the “cynical use of the Temple Mount as a kind of zone of immunity for incitement and terror has to stop. We’re not eager to [send security forces to] operate on the Temple Mount, but when we must, we will. The very willingness of the terrorists to use the Temple Mount flows from the incitement” heard at the site, which he noted as already led to rioting there in the past.

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