With Israeli security forces on high alert in Jerusalem, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan on Friday condemned the Palestinian Authority and Arab Israeli lawmakers for spreading “incitement and lies” about the Temple Mount and fomenting unrest.
Palestinian rioters have stashed weapons on the holy site, Erdan asserted, turning the compound into a “warehouse of terror.”
Erdan’s comments came as the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee approved the draft of Border Police reservists to bolster security in the capital.
“I deeply regret the incitement and lies that the PA, headed by Abu Mazen [PA President Mahmoud Abbas] and Arab MKs have spread about the Temple Mount,” Erdan said at the Western Wall below the compound.
“We intend to keep the status quo on the Temple Mount, but that includes freedom of movement to all those who want to visit the compound,” he said.
“Al-Aqsa is ours, the Holy Sepulcher is ours,” Abbas said this week, referring to the church that Christians believe is the site of Jesus’ crucifixion. “They do not have the right to pollute them with their dirty feet, we do not allow them and we will do everything possible to protect Jerusalem.”
Meanwhile, in an unusual move, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee convened an emergency session and okayed the call-up of police reservists.
Earlier, police said one Palestinian was arrested for hurling stones at cops outside Jerusalem’s Old City.
Several Palestinians threw rocks at police officers at Damascus Gate, police said, and one suspect was detained. There were no reports of injuries.
In a separate incident on Nablus Road, police said they dispersed a crowd of rioters and the situation was “under control.”
In the East Jerusalem village of A-Tur, masked rioters threw stones at police and Border Police officers, who moved to disperse them. A similar incident occurred at the Qalandiya crossing between Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Hundreds of policemen were deployed in East Jerusalem and around the Old City of Jerusalem on Friday morning in anticipation of Palestinian riots. Acting on intelligence reports, the police were gearing up for violence following the afternoon prayers, after a week that saw several heavy clashes atop the holy site.
They set up heavily-manned checkpoints on streets leading up to the Temple Mount, turning back youngsters, while a police surveillance blimp flew overhead.
Police said they would prohibit the entry of men under 40 to the Temple Mount compound Friday morning after receiving intelligence reports indicating “young Arabs” planned to disrupt the peace during Muslim Friday prayers at the site, a spokesperson said.
Women of all ages were allowed into the compound, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif.
“In light of intelligence received indicating the intention of Arab youths to disturb the peace at Friday prayers on Temple Mount it was decided to limit the age of Muslim worshipers,” said a police statement.
“It’s a frontline,” 52-year-old Palestinian Mazen Shawish told AFP. “You have to go though 20 military checkpoints to get to the mosque.”
In the West Bank, the Israel Defense Forces were also on high alert after the Hamas terror group called for a “Day of Rage” on Friday in response to the three days of violent confrontations on the Temple Mount.
The rock throwing — which turned deadly Sunday night when an Israeli motorist was hit by rocks thrown from a Palestinian neighborhood and crashed his car in a southern neighborhood of the city — has vexed officials, and political leaders have vowed to crack down on stone-throwing and other “popular” attacks via harsher punishments and allowing increased use of force, including live fire.
The UN Security Council late Thursday night expressed “grave concern” over the tensions and urged restraint. The council statement said Muslims at the site “must be allowed to worship in peace, free from violence, threats and provocations.”
It also said that “visitors should be without fear of violence or intimidation.”
Earlier Thursday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and told him that Israel was acting against the violence on the Temple Mount.
Netanyahu added that Israel was strictly maintaining the status quo, which prohibits Jewish prayer at the sensitive site, while the Palestinian incitement was trying to upset the status quo.
Netanyahu’s conversation with Ban came after the government reiterated to the Jordanian government — which is the legal custodian of the Temple Mount — that it had no plans to change the conditions on the mount.
Palestinian reports, some coming from Hamas officials, that Israel was trying to advance a division of the Temple Mount’s territory, were dismissed by the government as complete fabrications.
King Abdullah earlier warned that Jordan would need to act to prevent what he called Israeli “provocations” on the Temple Mount, threatening to cut diplomatic ties. Other Muslim leaders also condemned Israeli actions on the Temple Mount, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was accused of fanning the flames by unnamed Israeli officials, Israel’s Channel 2 reported.
Police preparations for violence during Friday prayers come after Thursday and Wednesday offered some respite from three consecutive days of violence near al-Aqsa Mosque from Sunday, the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and until Tuesday when the holiday ended. There were minor incidents in Jerusalem on Thursday, including stones thrown at a bus, which was then set alight.
The violence began Sunday when police, acting on a tip from the Shin Bet security service, raided the mount and found pipe bombs and other improvised weapons, apparently prepared in advance for an organized riot.
Judah Ari Gross, AP contributed to this report.