US praises Netanyahu’s handling of Temple Mount standoff
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US praises Netanyahu’s handling of Temple Mount standoff

White House official says PM acted with a 'clear sense' of responsibility for regional stability, not just Israel's security

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Palestinians celebrate outside the Lions Gate entrance to Jerusalem's Old City on July 27, 2017 after more Israeli barriers were removed from the Temple Mount entrance. (AFP/ AHMAD GHARABLI)
Palestinians celebrate outside the Lions Gate entrance to Jerusalem's Old City on July 27, 2017 after more Israeli barriers were removed from the Temple Mount entrance. (AFP/ AHMAD GHARABLI)

A senior White House official praised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday for his handling of tensions surrounding the Temple Mount amid the fallout from a recent terror attack at the site, saying the premier acted in the interest of regional stability.

“In our continuous contacts with him throughout the crisis, Prime Minister Netanyahu acted with a clear sense of responsibility not just for Israel’s security, but also for regional stability,” the official told The Times of Israel Thursday.

The official’s praise for Netanyahu came after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jerusalem’s Muslim religious authorities on Thursday gave protesters the all-clear to end their 12-day boycott of the holy site in response to new security measures following the July 14 terror attack, when three Arab-Israelis shot dead two police officers outside the compound using weapons smuggled into the Temple Mount compound.

The decision to place metal detectors and other security measures at the entrances to the Temple Mount was met with widespread furor, with demonstrators holding daily prayers outside of the Old City and at times clashing with security forces.

Anger at the security measures was also cited by assailants in a pair of terror attacks, including by a Palestinian who stabbed to death three members of a family in the West Bank settlement of Halamish as they celebrated Shabbat last Friday.

Late Wednesday, Israel removed the final security measures put in place at the entrances to the holy site.

A State Department official on Thursday would not say whether the Trump administration supported Israel’s decision to remove the Temple Mount security measures but emphasized the US would not “pressure” Jerusalem over the issue.

Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on July 23, 2017. (Ohad Zweigenberg/POOL)
Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on July 23, 2017. (Ohad Zweigenberg/POOL)

“Israel’s security is our top priority, among our top priorities,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said during a press briefing. “We would never pressure Israel into making a security decision for political purposes.”

In a statement Thursday, US President Donald Trump’s special envoy for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt said the US welcomed the efforts to restore calm, saying he hoped it would help renew an opening for peace talks.

“The United States welcomes the efforts undertaken to de-escalate tensions in Jerusalem today. We believe that calm and security will create the best opportunity to return to dialogue and the pursuit of peace,” he said.

“President Trump, Jared Kushner, and I, in full coordination with Secretary [of State] Rex Tillerson, Ambassador [to Israel] David Friedman, [Jerusalem] Consul General Don Blome and the State Department, as well as General HR McMaster and the National Security Council, have been and will remain engaged as we continue to monitor the situation closely,” he added.

Greenblatt, who along with Kushner was dispatched by Trump to help end the Temple Mount standoff, also posted a photo of himself praying at the Western Wall Thursday after “a difficult two weeks.”

Netanyahu had come under intense criticism for his decision to remove the metal detectors and other security measures, with a survey showing wide support for keeping the sensors in place and the Israel Hayom tabloid, seen as a key ally for the prime minister, blasting him as “feeble” and “helpless” over the decision. Others had questioned his decision to place the metal detectors at entrances to the site in the first place.

Despite the deconfliction efforts, large scale clashes erupted between Palestinians and Israeli security forces on the Temple Mount Thursday, as thousands of worshipers entered the site for the first time in nearly two weeks.

A police officer was lightly injured after a rock was thrown at his head, police said.

Channel 2 reported that 10 police officers were injured in the ensuing clashes.

Israeli security forces fire tear-gas to disperse Palestinians after clashes broke out at the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem's Old City on July 27, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLI)
Israeli security forces fire tear-gas to disperse Palestinians after clashes broke out at the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on July 27, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLI)

Some 115 Palestinians were treated for injuries both inside the compound and in the surrounding area, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent. A spokesperson said the injuries were mainly caused by rubber bullets, burns and bruises. Fifteen people were hospitalized, it said.

Police clash with Muslim worshipers at the Temple Mount on July 27, 2017. (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)
Police clash with Muslim worshipers at the Temple Mount on July 27, 2017. (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)

Police said worshipers began hurling rocks at security forces upon their reentry to the compound.

The police responded to the stone-throwing with riot dispersal methods and vowed to forcefully combat any violence.

Eric Cortellessa, Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.

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