A senior Muslim official in Jerusalem said Wednesday that worshipers would not return to the Temple Mount until Israel removes the new railings and cameras it installed after a deadly terror attack there, prolonging a crisis that Israel hoped it had resolved by making concessions at the site.
Ikrema Sabri, head of the Supreme Islamic Committee, said that even after Israel removed metal detectors and cameras from the site, more steps were required to restore calm. He said mass prayer protests would continue until the gates of the compound were opened, metal railings and an iron bridge removed and all cameras taken down.
He said a lawyer working on behalf of the Muslim administration of the holy site would be in touch with Israeli police about it.
“We will not enter the mosque until these things are implemented,” he told The Associated Press. “Now we are awaiting the response of the police.”
Israel’s security cabinet announced Monday that in place of the metal detectors it would employ non-intrusive “advanced technologies,” reportedly smart cameras that can detect hidden objects. The new security system is said to be set up in the next six months at a cost of $28 million.
Cameras at the entrance to the Temple Mount set up after the July 14 terror attack were also taken down, though cameras that had been in place around the Old City already remain in place, a police official said Tuesday.
Netanyahu appeared to be doubling back again Wednesday when he instructed police forces to conduct thorough inspections at the site.
The dispute set off the prospect of a renewed showdown ahead of Friday prayers at the site, when a large number of worshipers arrive for the centerpiece of the Muslim prayer week.
On Wednesday, Hamas called for a “day of rage,” while the Palestinian Authority’s Fatah faction urged Muslims to “intensify the popular struggle” over the Temple Mount on the holy day.
Israel installed the new security measures earlier this month in the wake of the July 14 terror attack by three Arab Israelis who shot two Israeli police officers to death with guns that had been smuggled onto the Mount. It said they were necessary to prevent further attacks, while Palestinians claimed Israel was trying to expand its control over the site. The issue sparked some of the worst street clashes in years and threatened to draw Israel into conflict with other Arab and Muslim nations.
Under intense pressure, Israel removed the metal detectors and said it planned to install sophisticated security cameras instead.
But Palestinian politicians and Muslim clerics say that wasn’t enough and demanded that Israel restore the situation at the shrine in Jerusalem’s Old City to what it was before the July 14 deadly attack.
In response to that attack, Israel closed the site for two days for weapons searches and installed the metal detectors. The decision quickly triggered Muslim protests amid rumors that Israel was trying to expand its control at the site under the guise of security — a claim Israel strongly denied.
Low-level clashes have continued in and around Jerusalem. After Tuesday evening prayers, violence once again broke out in East Jerusalem, with rocks thrown at police officers who responded with tear gas and other “nonlethal crowd disposal methods,” police said in a statement. The Red Crescent said 13 people were treated that night after being hit by rubber bullets during protests.
On Wednesday, police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said journalists were being prevented from entering parts of Jerusalem’s Old City as part of efforts to lower tensions around the flashpoint holy site.
The continued standoff highlighted the deep distrust between Israel and the Palestinians when it comes to the shrine — the third-holiest site of Islam and the holiest of Judaism, once home to the biblical Temples.
The latest development could put Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a tough spot, as he tries to tamp out a wave of unrest that has triggered international pressure while not appearing to his right-wing base as capitulating.
His government has faced a growing backlash at home for what critics said was hasty decision-making and embarrassing policy reversals. Even Israel Hayom, a free daily owned by Netanyahu’s billionaire patron Sheldon Adelson, denounced Israel’s response to the crisis as “feeble and frightened.”
In an unprecedented headline, the paper — which has been an unequivocal source of support for the prime minister — led with “Netanyahu’s demonstration of helplessness.”
Israel has also found itself in a new scuffle with Turkey, whose leader President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been among its fiercest critics. On Tuesday, Erdogan accused Israel of using security measures as a pretext to take over holy sites in Jerusalem.
Israel’s foreign ministry responded by calling the comments “delusional, baseless and distorted.”
“The days of the Ottoman Empire are over,” it said. “He who lives in a palace of glass would be better off not throwing stones.”
Netanyahu’s office also chimed in, saying it wondered what Erdogan would have to say to Kurds and residents of north Cyprus. “Erdogan is the last one who can preach to Israel,” it said in a statement.
On Wednesday, Turkey’s foreign ministry called the Israeli statements “arrogant.”