Amid deadly Temple Mount terror attack, Netanyahu resists calls to change status quo

Lawmakers slam shooting attack that left two police officers dead and a third wounded; some call to lift decades-old restrictions on Jewish worship at holy site

Police forensic experts inspect the body of a assailant at the scene of an attack at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, Friday, July 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
Police forensic experts inspect the body of a assailant at the scene of an attack at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, Friday, July 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

The dramatic terror attack at the Temple Mount Friday drew condemnations from across the Israeli political spectrum, including calls to change the long-standing arrangements at the holy site that allow Muslim prayer there but forbid Jewish prayer and religious rituals.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fended off the calls with a blunt statement from his office Friday, saying, “The status quo will be protected.”

According to the statement, Netanyahu convened a briefing with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Eisenkot, Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman, Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai and others.

Erdan called the attack “an extremely serious event which crossed all red lines. The investigation is ongoing. We will need to reevaluate all of the security arrangements on the Temple Mount and its environs. I call on all public leaders to act to calm the situation and ensure quiet in Jerusalem.”

Two police officers were killed and a third was lightly wounded in the shooting attack just outside the Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem’s Old City. According to police, the attackers came from the Temple Mount shortly after 7:00 in the morning. They walked toward the Lions Gate exit, then opened fire at the Israelis.

After the shooting, the terrorists fled toward the Temple Mount and police gave chase. The officers then opened fire, shooting the terrorists dead inside the complex.

Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin said the “cynical use of the Temple Mount as a kind of zone of immunity for incitement and terror has to stop. We’re not eager to [send security forces to] operate on the Temple Mount, but when we must, we will. The very willingness of the terrorists to use the Temple Mount flows from the incitement” heard at the site, which he noted as already led to rioting there in the past.

On the right, some politicians called for changes to the status quo at the holy site.

Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan (Jewish Home) linked the attack to this week’s UNESCO Heritage Committee decision designating Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs a Muslim holy site endangered by Israel.

Saying both were part of a Palestinian campaign “to undermine our ties” to holy sites in Hebron and Jerusalem, he says the effort “began with the UNESCO decision that the Tomb of the Patriarchs is a Palestinian heritage site and continues today with this attempt by three Palestinian terrorists on the Temple Mount.”

He adds: “Faced with this effort, Israel must bolster its rule and control over the [holy sites], and to ensure that all Jews can pray there at any time in safety.”

He called for the closure of the Mount to continue “until quiet and security are returned to the mount.”

Jewish Home MK Moti Yogev backed the call, saying the Mount should be “closed to Muslim [worshipers] for a long time.”

In a joint statement, Jewish Home MKs Shuli Muallem-Refaeli and Yehudah Glick said, “the terror that’s being carried out with the backing of the Palestinian Authority and the Islamic Movement in a bid to deny the Jewish link to the Temple Mount cannot pass without a response. The extremist Muslims who desecrate the sanctity of the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest place, with their blood have no right to be there. Therefore, Jerusalem Police Chief Yoram Halevi’s decision to close the mount and not to allow the Muslims to carry out their Friday prayers there was a correct one.”

Some on the left warned against any change to the status quo.

Zionist Union MK Omer Barlev, a retired IDF colonel, said there was “no doubt this is an attempt to escalate from their side. The very fact that [the shooters] came from the Temple Mount is an attempt to turn this attack into a religious event. It’s an attempt to deny Israel control of the situation. The government must be wise and not get dragged into a religious war. The closure [of the site] today is obvious and reasonable. But closing the Temple Mount to Muslim worshipers for a month would turn this into an international incident that would hurt Israel.”

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