Officials bolster security as Temple Mount set to reopen after attack
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Officials bolster security as Temple Mount set to reopen after attack

Metal detectors set up at gates around flashpoint holy site, leading to concerns over long lines and heightened tensions; minister says Israel, not Jordan, decides on security measures

Israeli border policemen install metal detectors outside the Lion's Gate, a main entrance to the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City, on July 16, 2017. (AFP/Menahem KAHANA)
Israeli border policemen install metal detectors outside the Lion's Gate, a main entrance to the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City, on July 16, 2017. (AFP/Menahem KAHANA)

Israel has reintroduced metal detectors to the entrances of the Temple Mount, officials said Sunday, with a minister dismissing Jordanian concerns that had led to the detectors being removed in the past.

The move came two days after a deadly attack at the sensitive holy site which led Israel to close the compound, drawing protests from Amman and others in the Muslim world.

A police spokesperson confirmed to The Times of Israel that metal detectors had been set up at gates leading into the flashpoint site, following an order from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Israeli forces conducted a security sweep early Sunday and began installing the detectors. Given the large number of worshippers expected to enter the site, the new measures could slow movement and spark tensions.

Israel plans on gradually reopening the Temple Mount to worshipers and visitors in the course of Sunday, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told Army Radio.

Israeli border policemen patrol in Jerusalem's Old City, on July 16, 2017. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)
Israeli border policemen patrol in Jerusalem’s Old City, on July 16, 2017. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

“The gates for Muslims to the Temple Mount are closed today,” Erdan said in an interview with Army Radio. “Right now, we can only screen [for firearms] at some of the gates, even if it’s only with a hand-held [detector], but we hope to place metal detection gates at all the entrances to the Mount and reach a point where everyone who enters gets checked,” he said.

After a Saturday night consultation with security officials, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a gradual reopening of the site to Muslim worshipers starting Sunday at noon.

An Israeli border policeman inspects the identification card of a Palestinian woman in Jerusalem's Old City, on July 16, 2017. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)
An Israeli border policeman inspects the identification card of a Palestinian woman in Jerusalem’s Old City, on July 16, 2017. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

The closure, which drew furious complaints from the Jordanian-appointed Waqf Muslim trust that administers the compound, was the first time the site was closed since 1969. Jordan, a custodian of the sacred compound, called for its immediate reopening. Netanyahu acted quickly to allay Muslim fears, saying that the status quo at the Muslim-administered site “will be preserved.” But Gaza’s Hamas rulers called the act a “religious war” and urged Palestinians to carry out more attacks.

Mahmoud al-Aloul, deputy head of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction, told Palestinian media on Sunday that posting metal detectors at the Temple Mount was “illegitimate,” and security would only be ensured at the site by preventing the entry of “settlers” and removing “Israeli soldiers” — a reference to Border Police officers stationed at the site — from the compound.

The reopening, Erdan said, will be accompanied by heightened security measures, a response to the fact that the shooters had managed to smuggle their guns into the compound before the attack.

Only the Mughrabi Gate entrance, used by Jews and foreign visitors, had a metal detector before Sunday, Erdan said.

According to daily Israel Hayom, Israel has not had metal detectors at all nine gates into the Temple Mount since 2000, when they were removed at Jordan’s insistence. A police plan in 2014 called for them to be put back in, but they were only placed at some gates, given the issue’s sensitivity.

Netanyahu’s office announced the lifting of the closure late Saturday, saying in a statement, “It was decided to gradually reopen the site tomorrow to worshipers, visitors and tourists.”

The statement added that sensors and detectors would be set up at all gates leading into the site, along with “further additional security measures.” Cameras would be set up outside the gates, the statement added.

Erdan said no decision had yet been taken to add security cameras inside the compound, a proposal opposed in the past by Jordan, which is against any move that it says may effect the sensitive status quo.

“During the terror wave [that began] in September 2015, I instructed the police to prepare such a plan, but no decision was taken to implement it.”

Muslim worshipers prevented from entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque at the Temple Mount pray outside Jerusalem's Old City, Friday, July 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
Muslim worshipers prevented from entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque at the Temple Mount pray outside Jerusalem’s Old City, Friday, July 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Any changes to the flashpoint holy site required coordination, he said. “We have to remember that any action that changes the situation on the Mount requires the approval of the political echelon, because this usually has to be coordinated with Jordan and other international actors.”

But in the end, he insisted, the decision would be Israel’s. “Israel is the sovereign at the Mount, no matter what other states think. If we decide that an action has certain advantages, we’ll act.”

Erdan acknowledged the practical challenges that would have to be overcome.

“On Fridays and during Ramadan tens of thousands of people, and sometimes over 100,000, enter in just a few hours,” he said. “There is a concern that [metal detectors] will create long lines, and that those operating the detectors will become targets for terror attacks. There is also an issue with checking women entering the Mount. This is a project that presents many dilemmas both at the political level and at the operational one.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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