The United States on Saturday backed Israel’s temporary closure of the Temple Mount in the wake of a deadly terror attack on Friday and urged Muslim nations to be patient until the holy site can be reopened.
The White House statement came in the face of widespread anger from the Arab world toward Israel for closing the site for the first time since 1969 as security forces searched the flash point compound. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced late Saturday that the site would gradually reopen on Sunday.
“The people of the United States strongly condemn the terror attack,” the White House statement said. “There must be zero tolerance for terrorism . It is incompatible for achieving peace and we must condemn it in the strongest terms, defeat it and eradicate it.”
“The attack forced the government of Israel to temporarily close the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif to conduct its investigation,” the statement said, noting that Israel has vowed to reopen the site and restore the delicate status quo that has been in place since Israel captured the site in the 1967 Six Day War.
The White House called this “a decision which the United States applauds and welcomes.”
“We urge all leaders and people of good faith to be understanding as this process proceeds and reaches its conclusion,” the White House said.
Following Friday’s attack, in which three Israeli-Arabs killed two Israeli Druze police officers near Lions Gate just outside the Temple Mount complex, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the rare step of sealing the site amid security sweeps. Israel said the killers emerged from the Temple Mount compound with automatic weapons, in what Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called a “defiling” of the holy site.
Reports throughout Friday said the two police officers were killed just outside the Temple Mount compound. However, Channel 2 news reported late Friday that the second policeman may have been killed by the assailants on the mount itself, after they had fled back.
The US on Saturday also warned its consular and embassy workers not to visit the Old City until Monday and urged its citizens to exercise caution in the area.
The US had already condemned the attack on Friday.
The American ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, took to Twitter, saying: “Shocked and horrified by the despicable attack.” He added: “Terrorism must be condemned by all and defeated. We pray for the victims.”
The US Consulate General in Jerusalem, which represents the US administration to the Palestinian Authority, condemned the shooting, calling it a “horrific and violent act.” In a second tweet, the consulate added: “Terrorism is unacceptable. Holy sites must be protected.”
There has been mounting pressure on Israel to re-allow Muslim worshipers in, something Netanyahu has reportedly agreed to do from Sunday. He also dismissed the notion of changing the status quo at the site.
But his assurances fell on deaf ears in the Muslim world where widespread condemnation of the closure continued to come in, often with little or no mention of the actual attack.
Jordan’s Minister of Waqf and Islamic Affairs Wael Arabiyat warned of “continued unprecedented harm to the sanctity of the Al-Aqsa Mosque…under the pretense of stopping violence.” Israel, he asserted, was to blame for the rise in violence.
Jordan on Friday called on Israel to “reopen Al-Aqsa mosque and the Haram al-Sharif (compound) immediately.” The Jordanian government said it “opposes any harm against Muslims in carrying out their religious worship in their holy places, freely and with no obstacles.” It warned against any attempt “to alter the legal and historical status quo in Jerusalem.”
On Saturday, there was restricted access through Damascus Gate, the main entrance used by Palestinians into Jerusalem’s Old City, with only residents with identification being allowed to pass.
The Arab League condemned Israel for the closure, with Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit saying in a statement on Friday that Israel’s “banning Palestinians from praying” will only “inflame extremism and escalate tension” in the region. He stressed “the high sensitivity of issues related to religious places,” and chastised Israel for handling the situation with “carelessness.”
The statement made no mention of the terror attack that caused the temporary closure.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, an umbrella group of 57 nations, also lambasted the closure, calling it “a serious crime and a dangerous precedent.”
Israel rejected the Jordanian demand to immediately reopen the site and criticized Amman, with one unnamed official telling Israeli TV that “instead of condemning the attack, Jordan chose to attack Israel, which is protecting worshipers and maintaining freedom of worship in the place.
“Israel will not tolerate harm to the holy places and is maintaining the status quo there. It should be expected that all sides involved, including Jordan, exercise restraint and avoid fanning the flames,” the official said.