Police on Thursday announced that tourists and Israeli Jews were temporarily barred from entering Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, one day after minor scuffles broke out when 17 right-wing activists tried to enter the site.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that the ban was a precaution meant to prevent further violence.
Under the law, Jews are theoretically allowed to ascend the mount and pray at the site, which is revered as the location of both ancient Jewish temples. However, police have the right to veto any visits and in practice prevent both prayer and high-profile Jewish visits.
Last week, the Knesset Interior Committee debated the longstanding unofficial ban on Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount, while the Religious Affairs Ministry said it was reexamining the possibility of revising the prohibition.
The mount is the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest shrine, which is administered by the Islamic Wakf. According to Islamic tradition, from the Temple Mount, also known as the Noble Sanctuary, the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven in a mystical night journey recounted in the Koran.
On Wednesday, violence erupted as Palestinians commemorated Nakba Day, the “catastrophe” of the displacement of Palestinians associated with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Police say Jewish worshipers inside the Old City were attacked during the unrest.
Rosenfeld said the site remains open for Muslims and will reopen for others after security assessments. Palestinians see visits by Jews as a provocation, and disturbances often erupt.
Israeli police detained the mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Hussein, for questioning last week because he was suspected of participating in disturbances at the Temple Mount. An Israeli official said the Muslim cleric was issued a warning and told to lower tensions a day after Muslim worshipers threw rocks and chairs at tourists visiting the hilltop compound that houses the mosque.
Israeli authorities also limited access to the contested holy site to Muslim worshipers the day after last week’s disturbances, causing Jordan and Egypt to “express concern” after members of their legislatures voted to kick the Israeli envoys out of their countries.
Meanwhile, several ambassadors from Arab nations to the UN met with the international body’s Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson on Tuesday evening to protest what they called “Israel’s violations of religious rights in the territories, particularly in Jerusalem.”