Jews visiting Jerusalem’s Temple Mount compound during the upcoming Passover festival will inflame tensions at the volatile holy site, senior Palestinian leaders warned on Wednesday.
Adnan Gaith, the head of Fatah’s armed Tanzim wing in Jerusalem, told Israel Radio that any calls by Jewish religious and political leaders to visit the flashpoint compound — which today houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, known in Arabic as Haram al-Sharif, or the Holy Sanctuary — “will not bring about peace or quiet.”
“Al-Aqsa is a red line, people will not think twice about protecting it,” Gaith added, referring to persistent accusations that Israel is seeking to change the arrangements at the volatile site. The outbreak of a wave of Palestinian violence and terror attacks that began last year was buoyed by Palestinian claims that Israel was attempting to take control of the Temple Mount. Israel has repeatedly denied there are any such plans.
Jerusalem Mufti Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, the Muslim cleric in charge of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, also warned against increased Jewish “provocations” at the compound during the Jewish festival, which begins next Friday evening.
“We must stop religious groups and extremist Jews from invading this Muslim holy site,” he told the radio station.
Both Gheit and Hussein accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of exacerbating tensions there.
Muslims regard the compound as the third-holiest site in Islam.
In Judaism, the Temple Mount is so holy that Jews have traditionally refrained from praying there, congregating instead at the adjacent Western Wall, a retaining wall of the ancient temple complex, which has become the top holy spot for Jewish prayer. But during Passover, some religiously observant Jews seek to visit the Mount in homage to the pilgrimages taken by Jews in biblical times.
Under an agreement between the Israeli government and Islamic authorities at the site, Jews are allowed to visit but not pray at the site, which is revered as the location of both ancient Jewish temples.
Jewish visitors suspected of violating the Temple Mount prayer ban are routinely arrested by police.
Clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli security forces erupted at the compound in September 2015 amid fears among Muslims that Israel was planning to change rules governing the site. Israel denied any such plans.
The clashes preceded a wave of Palestinian terrorism and violence, including stabbing, shooting and vehicular ramming attacks that have killed 29 Israelis, two Americans, an Eritrean and a Sudanese since October 1 last year. Some 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces in this period, most of them while carrying out attacks, according to Israeli officials.
In a bid to prevent the stoking of further violence during the holiday, Netanyahu, who first ordered Jewish and Muslim lawmakers off the site late last year, reiterated on Sunday his blanket ban on elected officials visiting the Temple Mount.
Earlier in the week, Netanyahu requested the firebrand Muslim preacher Raed Salah be temporarily distanced from the Temple Mount citing similar reasons.
But despite warnings and precautions, longtime Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick on Wednesday continued his calls for Jews to ascend the holy site.
Glick, who lobbies for Jewish prayer rights at the site, in addition to ongoing Muslim prayer, called on worshipers to visit the Mount “quietly and respectfully and in compliance with police instructions.”
During an interview with Army Radio, he struck back at Gheit and Hussein, saying that “true religious leaders call for calm, and don’t incite followers to violence.”
Glick expressed confidence that Israeli security forces would be able to prevent potential escalations at the site during the holiday.
Glick was severely wounded in an assassination attempt by a Palestinian man last year over his Temple Mount activism.
Israel captured the Temple Mount and Jerusalem’s Old City from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed the area, but it left Jordanian religious authorities in charge of the Muslim holy sites atop the mount.
Israel and Jordan recently agreed to install video cameras throughout the compound in a bid to ease tensions. Though US Secretary of State John Kerry announced the video surveillance plan during a visit to Amman last year, disputes between Israel and Jordan over who controls the footage and what the cameras may or may not film are reportedly holding up the project.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.