Thousands of police officers were deployed on high alert in and around Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday morning in anticipation of violent riots by Muslim worshipers over Israel’s installation of metal detectors at the Temple Mount compound.
The high-level security cabinet overnight Thursday-Friday deferred to the Israel Police to make the final decision on the increased security measures around the holy site, which were instituted following a terror attack last Friday at the Temple Mount that saw three Arab Israeli gunmen emerge with guns from the compound shoot and kill two Israeli police officers on duty just outside.
“The cabinet has authorized the Israel Police to make any decision in order to ensure free access to the holy sites, while upholding security and public order,” a late-night statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said, after hours of consultations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ministers and security chiefs.
Friday prayers on the Muslim holy day are the busiest time in the week at the Temple Mount, with tens of thousands expected to arrive at the compound. The Palestinian terror group Hamas called for mass protests on Friday against the increased security measures, which Israel said were necessary in light of last Friday’s lethal attack.
Muslim clerics have also been urging the faithful to skip prayers in neighborhood mosques on Friday and converge on the shrine, in an attempt to draw larger crowds. Worshipers have been asked this week to pray in the streets rather than submit to the new security procedures.
Over 3,000 police officers will be deployed “in and around the area of the Old City, Temple Mount and nearby neighborhoods,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said on Thursday. Police are also said to be planning to limit the number of Muslim worshipers allowed to enter the Temple Mount area and blocking entry to the capital from other areas of the country ahead of Friday prayers.
In addition to the heavily bolstered police presence, the army announced that five battalions would be made available to deal with violence in and around the capital.
The IDF also canceled all leave over the weekend, keeping all units at full strength in anticipation of violence.
Clashes erupted Thursday between Palestinians protesters and police in Jerusalem’s Old City after thousands of Muslim worshipers gathered around the contested Temple Mount holy site for evening prayers.
Palestinians threw rocks and glass bottles at the officers outside the Old City’s Lions Gate following evening prayers. Police responded with tear gas and riot dispersal methods, police said. Over 40 Palestinians and five Israeli officers were reported injured.
Last Friday, following the deadly attack, Israel initially closed the site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, as it searched for further weapons. The compound, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, was reopened Sunday with metal detectors installed, a step Palestinians protested as a change to the longstanding status quo. Israel denied this, and noted that those enter the Western Wall plaza below have long been required to pass through metal detectors. The Temple Mount is the holiest place to Jews as the site of the biblical temples.
The increased security measures were taken after police said the three attackers who emerged armed from the compound and shot at police on Friday, killing two Druze police officers, had stashed their weapons on the holy site.
On Thursday, police released video footage showing how the killers and an accomplice got the guns into the Temple Mount compound.
Raoul Wootliff, Agencies contributed to this report.