Senior Palestinian officials held an urgent meeting Sunday night following the implementation of new security measures at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, two days after a deadly terror attack by three Arab Israelis claimed the lives of two Israeli police officers.
The meeting in Ramallah, at the offices of Mahmoud al-Aloul, deputy head of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction, included Palestinian general intelligence commander Majid Faraj, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Muhammad Hussein, PA preventive security service commander Ziyad al-Rih and a number of officials from the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, the Jordanian custodian group that administers the site, the holiest in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam.
The officials “affirmed” that the status quo at the sensitive complex should remain and that no Israeli changes, including for security, should be accepted. The group expressed its opposition to the installation of new security measures, including metal detectors and cameras, at the Temple Mount, according to official Palestinian news site WAFA.
Abbas was not at the meeting.
Israel on Sunday partially reopened the holy site, which had been closed since Friday’s attack in which three Arab-Israeli assailants killed two Israeli Druze cops in a shooting attack. The perpetrators were shot and killed at the site by other officers.
Before reopening the compound, Israeli police installed metal detectors at several entrances on the order of the Prime Minister’s Office, drawing complaints from officials from the Waqf, which administers the holy site. Friday’s gunmen apparently hid their weapons in the compound days before the attack.
Under the status quo, established after Israel captured the site in 1967, the Temple Mount is managed by the Waqf Islamic foundation under the auspices of Jordan, and Israel controls access. Jews are allowed to visit, but not pray, at the site, the holiest in Judaism as the place of the biblical temples.
Israel has repeatedly denied seeking any change to arrangements.
After its re-opening Sunday, hundreds of Muslims prayed on the Temple Mount despite disagreement among senior Islamic clerics over the new measures.
Some worshipers refused to enter the Temple Mount compound, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), which includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. They instead held midday prayers outside the Lions’ Gate entrance to the site, in protest of the new security measures.
“We reject the changes imposed by the Israeli government,” Sheikh Omar Kiswani, Al-Aqsa director, told reporters outside. “We will not enter through these metal detectors.”
Jerusalem police had made clear to the Waqf officials that they were not required to go through the metal detectors.
But despite the protest by Kiswani and others, many worshipers did enter, including Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib, head of the Islamic Waqf.
Sporadic scuffles broke out between security forces and Muslim protesters who were trying to prevent other Muslim worshipers from going onto the site.
Al-Khatib entered from a different gate accompanied by several hundred worshipers, and made no complaint about the newly installed security measures.
When asked why he accepted the new measures, al-Khatib told reporters that he did not want to leave the holy site empty.
Channel 2 news reported that by 5 p.m. some 600 people had entered the site, which had opened at 1 p.m.
Speaking to the station, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said that in the future, Waqf officials might not be subject to security checks depending on the judgement of the police commanders.
However, additional security checks for the public were now non-negotiable. “Live fire from inside the Temple Mount crosses every red line,” he said, referring to Friday’s attack, in which the killers used guns they had apparently hidden inside the compound, and emerged from it and opened fire on the police officers.
Outside the compound on Sunday, hundreds chanted anti-Israel slogans and held their prayers in front of the metal detectors. Some women wailed and cried while telling people not to enter.
Adnan Husseini, the Palestinian Authority’s Jerusalem Affairs minister, said arrangements must return to how they were before the deadly attack.
He said the Palestinians would not accept Israeli security additions at the entrance to the site. Though he acknowledged there was violence, he said it “shouldn’t be an excuse for making changes.”
Erdan denied that the security checks constituted a violation of the status quo. “We respect our partners in administering this site, but, ultimately, Israel Police is responsible for the security of the site.”
Erdan, who is responsible for police, said in a tweet earlier that the Waqf officials’ protest was “opposition to the very existence of the metal detectors.”
Yoram Halevi, head of Jerusalem District Police, said that the current metal detectors are temporary and that full, final security arrangements are still being worked out.
Jews and others who wish to pray at the Western Wall, which is adjacent to the Temple Mount, are subject to security checks, and must pass through metal detectors. There are security cameras surrounding the area to ensure safety.
The decision to install the detectors came Saturday night from the Prime Minister’s Office, which is seeking more effective security arrangements at the compound. Officials had previously refrained from using them out of fear of protests from Jordan, which opposes any change to the delicate status quo at the site.
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.
The closure, the first time Israel shuttered the site on a Friday in decades, had drawn loud protests from the Palestinians, Amman and others. According to the Ma’an Palestinian news agency, the Palestinian officials appointed a committee to examine what “the extent of damages and possible thefts” during the closure.
On Sunday, Halevi said police had uncovered weapons during searches of the site over the weekend, but no firearms.
“We’ve been all over. Two days is definitely not enough, but we’ve covered large swaths of the area, where we suspected had things hidden in them,” he said. “We found dozens of knives, slingshots, cudgels, spikes, inciting material, unexploded munitions, stun grenades, binoculars — but we haven’t yet found caches of live ammunition.”