For the second consecutive day, Muslims on Monday largely avoided entering the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, instead preferring to protest outside the ultra-sensitive compound where Israeli authorities installed metal detectors, following a terror attack that killed two policemen.
According to police, only “several hundred” people visited the Temple Mount during the day, most of them non-Muslims, who were allowed back to the site for the first time since Friday’s attack.
Virtually no Muslims entered the site, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), which includes the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque, and the site remained largely empty.
Several hundred Muslims could be seen praying outside two different entrances to the site.
There were protests after the prayer, with crowds shouting: “Aqsa mosque, we sacrifice our souls and our blood.” Police later sought to move them back.
“We will not break the solidarity of the people,” said Jamal Abdallah, a Palestinian who now lives in the US state of Arizona and was planning to visit Al-Aqsa, but changed his mind when he was told of the situation.
Friday’s terror attack near the holy site saw three Arab Israelis emerge armed from the compound to kill two Druze Arab police officers on duty nearby.
They then fled back into the compound, where they were shot and killed by security forces.
It was among the most serious incidents in Jerusalem in recent years and heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions.
Jews revere the site, where the two Jewish temples stood in biblical times, as the Temple Mount. It is the holiest site in Judaism, and the nearby Western Wall, a retaining wall of Second Temple, is the holiest place where Jews can pray.
Muslims regard the hilltop compound as the Noble Sanctuary. Home to Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, it is Islam’s third-holiest site after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
Israel took the highly unusual decision of closing the compound for Friday prayers after the attack, triggering anger from Muslims and Jordan, the holy site’s custodian. It was the first time in decades that the site was closed.
The site remained closed on Saturday, and parts of Jerusalem’s Old City were also under lockdown.
Israeli authorities said the closure was necessary to carry out security checks, adding that the assailants had come from within the holy site to commit the attack. In searches, police discovered many weapons on the site, though no other guns.
They began reopening it on Sunday to Muslims only, but with metal detectors in place, while security cameras were also being installed in the area. On Monday, two more gates were opened, one of which allows access to Jews and non-Muslims.
Officials from the Muslim Waqf, which administers the site, have refused to enter and have called on worshipers to do the same.
In a statement, the Waqf called on the faithful not to enter the mosque by passing through the metal detectors, adding, “If the metal detectors continue to be imposed, we call upon the people to pray in front of the gates of the mosque and in the streets of Jerusalem.”
Under the status quo established after Israel captured the site in 1967, the site is managed by the Waqf, an Islamic foundation under the auspices of Jordan, and Israel controls access.
Palestinians view the new measures as Israel asserting further control over the site.
Crowds chanted “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) as they gathered nearby, outside the Lions’ Gate entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City, on Sunday.
On Sunday night, skirmishes broke out between Israeli police and worshipers outside the entrance, with the Red Crescent reporting 17 people wounded.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the decision to install the metal detectors and cameras following a meeting with security officials on Saturday.
He also spoke by phone with Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Saturday night before leaving on a trip to France and Hungary.
Abdullah condemned the attack, but also called on Netanyahu to reopen the compound and stressed the need to “avoid any escalation at the site.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas conveyed a similar message to Netanyahu when the two spoke by phone on Friday in the wake of the attack.
Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip and Abbas’s rival, has welcomed the attack, calling it “a natural response to the Zionist terrorism and the desecration of the Al-Aqsa mosque.”
On Monday, in a joint statement, Hamas and Islamic Jihad called for demonstrations over Al-Aqsa.
“We call for an end to all the Zionist measures and for the extremist government to take its hands off the blessed Al-Aqsa mosque,” it said.
Proposals to change security measures at the compound have sparked controversy in the past.
A plan developed in 2015 between Israel and Jordan to install cameras at the site itself fell apart amid disagreement over how they would be operated.
Jews are allowed to visit, but not pray there to avoid provoking tensions.