Israel overnight Monday began removing the metal detectors it installed outside the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in the wake of a terror attack earlier this month in which terrorists smuggled guns into the holy site and emerged from it to kill two police officers outside.
The removal of the metal detectors followed an Israeli security cabinet decision to replace them with security measures based on “advanced technologies,” allocating some NIS 100 million ($28 million) over a six-month period for the plan.
Work crews could be seen in the early hours of Tuesday removing the metal detectors at one entrance. Earlier, heavy machinery and workers could be seen heading to the entrance of the site.
Muslim officials said all the metal detectors had been dismantled by the dawn hours. Hebrew media reported earlier Monday that high-resolution cameras capable of detecting hidden objects would be the alternative.
The metal detectors were set up by Israel following a July 14 attack in which three Arab Israeli assailants killed two Israeli Druze officers just outside the Temple Mount, having smuggled their weapons into the holy site beforehand.
In a rare move, Israel shut the site on July 14-15 and re-opened it with new security arrangements in place.
The implementation of the measures set off daily unrest and clashes between Palestinian rioters and Israeli police in and around East Jerusalem and the West Bank, with the violence coming to a head over the weekend when three Israeli family members were murdered by a Palestinian terrorist who stabbed them to death at their Shabbat table in the West Bank settlement of Halamish on Friday, as others, including children, rushed to hide.
The 19-year-old terrorist had written a Facebook post prior to the attack that he would die as a martyr to defend the al-Aqsa mosque.
Five Palestinians were killed in clashes between rioters and police on Friday and Saturday.
The Prime Minister’s Office said early Tuesday that the security cabinet “accepted the recommendation of all of the security bodies to incorporate security measures based on advanced technologies (‘smart checks’) and other measures instead of metal detectors in order to ensure the security of visitors and worshippers in the Old City and on the Temple Mount.”
As word spread of the decision, a few hundred Palestinians gathered to celebrate at Lions Gate, near an entrance to the Temple Mount. One person set off a firework, prompting Israeli police to disperse them.
The cabinet decision to remove the metal detectors came shortly after Israel and Jordan came to an agreement regarding the safe return of an Israeli security guard injured in a stabbing attack at the Israeli embassy in Amman on Sunday.
The incident caused a diplomatic flare-up between the two countries, as the guard killed his attacker and another Jordanian national. Jordanian authorities had initially sought to interrogate the guard over the incident, while Israel refused to hand him over, in what devolved into a tense standoff.
As part of intensifying diplomatic efforts, Israel sent Shin Bet security agency chief Nadav Argaman to Amman. Also, US President Donald Trump’s Mideast envoy, Jason Greenblatt, met with Netanyahu in Jerusalem and headed to Jordan.
In a statement Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked US President Donald Trump for “directing [senior adviser and son-in-law] Jared Kushner and dispatching Jason Greenblatt to help with our efforts to bring the Israeli embassy staff home quickly. I thank King Abdullah [II] as well for our close cooperation.”
The guard and other Israeli embassy staff, including the ambassador, Einat Schlein, crossed from Jordan back into Israel late Monday.
In the hours before the embassy staff returned, Netanyahu spoke by phone with the Jordanian monarch who reportedly demanded the removal of the metal detectors at the Temple Mount, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, and is administered by a Jordanian-controlled Islamic trust.
The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism and is revered as the site of the biblical temples. It is also the third-holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina, and is known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif. Under an arrangement in place since Israel emerged victorious in the Six Day War in 1967, non-Muslims are allowed access to the site but are forbidden to pray there. Under this status quo, Israel is responsible for security at the site while the Jordanian trust — the Waqf — is in charge of administrative duties.
Jordan had been highly critical of the placement of metal detectors at the site, as have the Palestinians who alleged the security measures were a bid by Israel to assert control over the Temple Mount and thus a change to the status quo — a charge Israel has repeatedly denied.
The Prime Minister’s Office had earlier denied a Channel 2 report that Amman demanded the metal detectors be removed as a condition for securing the passage home of the Israeli security guard.