Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday restated a pledge to retain intact the custom of not permitting non-Muslim prayer on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, which has been at the center of a recent spike in unrest.
“Israel reaffirms its commitment to upholding unchanged the status quo of the Temple Mount, in word and in practice,” he said in a statement.
The compound, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, was the site of two ancient Jewish temples and is sacred to both Jews and Muslims. It was captured by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War.
“Israel will continue to enforce its longstanding policy: Muslims pray on the Temple Mount; non-Muslims visit the Temple Mount,” he said, following up on comments earlier by US Secretary of State John Kerry after meetings in Amman with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Kerry said Israel had agreed on steps to calm tensions over the flashpoint site, including 24-hour security cameras, an idea not specified in Netanyahu’s statement.
The prime minister did confirm, however, that there would be “increased coordination between the Israeli authorities and the Jordanian Waqf, including to ensure that visitors and worshipers demonstrate restraint and respect for the sanctity of the area, and all this in accordance with the respective responsibilities of the Israelis authorities and the Jordanian Waqf.”
Tensions over Al-Aqsa have sparked a recent wave of violence that has seen knife and gun terror attacks by Palestinians against Israelis along with daily clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces.
Israel has repeatedly denied persistent Palestinian allegations to the effect that it seeks to change the arrangements at the site in order to allow Jews to pray there.
“As we have said many times, Israel has no intention to divide the Temple Mount, and we completely reject any attempt to suggest otherwise,” Netanyahu said Saturday.
Eight Israelis have been killed in attacks since the beginning of the month and dozens were injured. One Israeli Jew and one Eritrean have been killed after being mistaken for terrorists.
On Friday, two Israeli parents and their three young children were wounded in a firebombing attack on their car near the West Bank settlement of Beit El, north of Jerusalem.
Since the start of the month, 52 Palestinians and one Israeli Arab have died either while carrying out attacks or in clashes with Israeli security forces.
On Friday, more than 80 people were wounded in clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Members of the Jewish Home party, a senior partner in Netanyahu’s coalition, made clear their dissatisfaction with the prohibition against Jewish prayer on the Mount.
“While I appreciate the prime minister’s efforts to calm the situation right now, nothing will ultimately prevent Jews from praying on the Temple Mount — to them, the holiest site in the world — not even Waqf cameras,” said Knesset member Yinon Magal.
He was echoed by fellow Jewish Home member Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, who added that the “feckless” agreement on new arrangements on the Mount was a “public declaration that the State of Israel doesn’t have sovereignty over the holiest site to the Jewish people.”