BUDAPEST, Hungary — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was holding consultations with his security chiefs on Wednesday as Israel considered removing recently installed metal detectors from the Temple Mount in the face of widespread opposition from Muslim groups.
Though no operative decisions were taken during the telephone consultations, the possibility of removing the metal detectors, placed at entrances to the compound on Sunday, was raised, Netanyahu’s office said.
The site has reemerged as a flashpoint in recent days, with Muslim protesters holding at-times violent demonstrations outside of the Old City in protest of Israel’s placement of metal detectors at the gates to the Temple Mount, following the terror attack last week in which three Arab Israelis shot dead two police officers guarding one of the entrances to the site.
The metal detectors were part of increased security measures after police said the attackers, who emerged armed from the holy site to open fire on the officers, had stashed their weapons on the Temple Mount.
Channel 2 said there was a professional disagreement between Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Israel Police representatives, who wanted to keep the detectors, and the Shin Bet heads who voiced support for their removal to avoid an escalation in violence.
In addition to Erdan, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, Police Chief Roni Alsheich, head of Shin Bet Nadav Argaman and other senior officials participated in Wednesday morning’s phone conference.
Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett appeared to indicate that Netanyahu was one of those opposed.
“I support the Prime Minister and Minister of Public Security. We must stand strong and ensure security on Temple Mount,” Bennett said noting that other holy sites including Mecca and the Western Wall had metal detectors.
“Caving in to Palestinian pressure now will hurt Israel’s deterrence, and risk the life of the visitors, worshipers and law enforcement officials on Temple Mount,” he said.
While not denying the content of the Channel 2 report, the Prime Minister’s Office criticized the manner in which the briefing was described. “To present the matter as if the prime minister was holding consultations to cancel the metal detectors – that is a distortion of reality,” the statement said.
Netanyahu, who is currently on a state visit in Hungry, held an additional consultation Wednesday afternoon with security officials, despite a packed agenda. He was scheduled to meet with the heads of government of Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic, attend a Hungary-Israel economic forum and visit the Hungarian Jewish community at the Dohany Street Synagogue.
Speaking with The Times of Israel later Wednesday, Police Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the metal detectors placed at the gates to the Temple Mount following Friday’s shooting attack at the site may not be permanent.
“The changes (the installation of the detectors) are a government decision. They can continue for weeks or months, or as long as necessary,” he said.
Meanwhile Israel was also said to be in talks with Jordan over the situation.
The head of the Jordanian-based Waqf Trust that administers the holy compound also confirmed contacts between Israel and Jordan were ongoing regarding the detectors.
“We are in communication with the Jordanian government which is in contact with the government of Israel,” the director of the Waqf, Sheikh Azzam al Khati, said. “As is known, security has always been in the hands of Israelis. But for us, we will not accept any changes, even for security,” he said.
Clashes between Muslim protesters and Israeli police continued for the fourth consecutive day following the detectors’ installation.
Around 150-200 worshipers had gathered neared the Lions Gate and performed the afternoon prayer, as part of their protest against the placement of metal detectors at the Temple Mount’s gates.
Following the prayers, a few men remained and shouted chants about the Al-Aqsa Mosque before the police asked them to move. When one man refused, police started to arrest him, and worshipers nearby began to throw water bottles at the officers. Police threw stun grenades, and the crowd dispersed in under a minute.
Police said that the man was detained for “disturbing the peace.”
The clashes came as Jerusalem police chief Yoram Halevi instructed officers to reopen the Temple Mount to non-Muslims, hours after he ordered the site closed following a violation of the holy site’s rules by Jewish visitors.
The Palestinian Fatah movement had called for a “Day of Rage” on Wednesday to protest the new security measures.
The organization, headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, called for marches in the West Bank toward Israeli checkpoints in protest of the new measures and announced that Friday prayers, when many worshipers go to the Temple Mount, would be conducted in public squares instead.
Following the terror attack, in which the gunmen killed two Israeli Druze police officers, Israel made the rare move of closing the compound while it searched for more weaponry there, reopening it to Muslims on Sunday and to non-Muslims on Monday.
Since it was reopened to non-Muslims, a number of incidents have been recorded of Jews praying at the site, including on Tuesday when police said they removed and later detained two visitors to the Mount.
Palestinian officials called for maintaining the delicate status quo at the Temple Mount, according to which the Waqf manages the site while Israel controls access. Muslims accuse Israel of breaking the status quo by installing the metal detectors.
Misinformation regarding Israeli plans to make changes to the status quo surfaces frequently, roiling the Palestinian street and angering the Arab world.
Israel has said repeatedly it has no plans to change the status quo at the Mount. It has always been responsible for security there, and Friday’s attack necessitated upgraded security, officials said. All visitors to the Western Wall plaza, below the Mount, have long had to pass through metal detectors, as have non-Muslim visitors to the Mount, who gain access via the Mughrabi Gate.
Dov Lieber contributed reporting from Jerusalem.