Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the US are reportedly upping the pressure on Israel to remove metal detectors newly installed at the entrances to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount complex by Friday.
An unnamed Palestinian official told London-based Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat that Amman and Riyadh, via Washington, have been urging Israel to roll back the new security measures — put in place in the wake of a deadly shooting attack last week — before masses of Muslim worshipers head to the holy site for their weekly prayers.
The official said the Palestinian leadership supported an American-brokered compromise that would see Israel remove the walk-through metal detectors it has set up and have police use hand-held metal detector wands instead, though only on those deemed to be suspicious.
“The search of suspects or bags is not objectionable,” the official said, but “the personal inspection of every person will be rejected.”
Israeli security services have meanwhile been gearing up for clashes that are expected in Jerusalem and the West Bank on Friday. On Thursday, police arrested six East Jerusalem residents for involvement in recent skirmishes with authorities during protests over the additional security.
On Thursday, the army announced that it was putting five additional battalions on alert in the West Bank “ahead of Friday,” though the military added that those battalions may be released should the situation change.
The White House said Thursday it was “very concerned” over the tensions. It called on Israel and Jordan — which serves as custodian of the holy site — “to make a good faith effort to reduce tensions and to find a solution that assures public safety and the security of the site and maintains the status quo.”
Under the status quo governing the Temple Mount, Israel controls access to the site and the Waqf Islamic trust set up by Jordan administers activities inside the compound. Non-Muslims are allowed to visit but are prohibited from prayer.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is traveling in Hungary, held three telephone consultations with his security chiefs on the matter on Wednesday, but no decisions were made, his office said.
“We want to solve this crisis in the quietest way possible and restore calm,” Netanyahu said. “We talk with the Arab world and we explain that there is absolutely no change to the status quo” on the holy site.
The metal detectors, which were erected after last Friday’s deadly shooting attack, constitute “a means to prevent firearms from being brought to the Temple Mount,” he said.
Channel 2 news 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 unnecessary escalation in violence.
Jerusalem’s most senior Muslim clerics have called for the closure of all mosques throughout the city Friday and for all Muslims to converge toward the site.
Such an event could lead to violent confrontations with police and spill over with protests throughout the West Bank. In recent days, there has been an increase in the number of worshipers at the Lions Gate entrance to the Temple Mount, and tens of thousands are expected to arrive on Friday.
The Temple Mount 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 site following the terror attack last week in which three Arab Israelis shot dead two police officers guarding one of the entrances.
The metal detectors were part of increased security measures after police said the attackers had stashed their weapons on the Temple Mount and emerged armed from the holy site to open fire on the officers.
Following the attack, 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.
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.
AP and Avi Issacharoff contributed to this report.