A record 1,729 Jews entered the Temple Mount compound on Sunday, compared to the 1,440 who did so last year, to mark the Tisha B’Av fast day, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan’s office announced.
The number is a new record for a single day, though the day’s visits consisted of entering the holy compound and immediately being ushered by police officers toward an exit gate.
Erdan, in a statement, praised police for their work securing the flashpoint Jerusalem site and added that his policy has been to let any Jew and any visitor enter — subject to a security assessment — and to “strengthen Israeli sovereignty on the mount.”
He added that the number of Jews entering the Temple Mount, known by Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, has quadrupled in the last four years.
The statement came less than an hour after police decided to allow Jews to enter the Temple Mount for the second time Sunday, following clashes in the morning with Palestinian rioters.
With fewer Muslim worshipers on site than there were in the morning, the second round of visits by Jews took place largely without incident. Some of the Muslims at the site shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) at the Jewish visitors as they were ushered by.
Sunday marks both the start of Eid al-Adha, an Islamic holiday commemorating the end of the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, and Tisha B’Av, when Jews mourn the destruction of the temples that once stood on the Temple Mount and other disasters in Jewish history.
A period of peak religious tensions over the confluence of the Jewish and Muslim holy days climaxed in clashes between Muslim protesters and Israel Police at the site on Sunday morning. At least 61 Muslim worshipers were injured in the clashes, according to the Red Crescent. At least four officers were also lightly to moderately wounded, police said.
Initially, police announced that non-Muslims would be barred from entering the Temple Mount, where tens of thousands of Muslim worshipers had arrived during the morning. Hundreds of Jews had gathered at the gates leading to the holy site on Sunday morning.
But following an uproar from right-wing ministers and lawmakers, a first round of Jewish visitors was allowed to enter the site. Several dozen visited under close police escort, but Muslim worshipers began throwing chairs and other objects at the group, and the Jewish visitors left the compound shortly thereafter.
According to police, Muslim worshipers began rioting and making “nationalistic calls” on the Temple Mount. In response, police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and other less-lethal riot control weapons at the protesters.
Police had deployed additional forces throughout Jerusalem in expectation of violence throughout the day.
Right-wing politicians blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the initial decision to close the Temple Mount to Jews, with the United Right party condemning it as “disgraceful” and calling on him to reverse the ban.
A source in the Prime Minister’s Office denied Netanyahu had ordered the closure, saying that whether to allow entry to the Temple Mount is determined in accordance with police assessments of the situation.
“At no stage did Prime Minister Netanyahu give the instruction to close entry to the Temple Mount,” the source said.
Last week, representatives from the police, Shin Bet security service and Public Security Ministry presented the prime minister with their assessments and recommendations for Sunday’s Eid al-Adha and Tisha B’Av on the Temple Mount, indicating that Netanyahu would have been aware of their decision and given tacit approval.
The prime minister also has the power to override the police’s decisions regarding the holy site.
Israeli authorities traditionally close the Temple Mount to non-Muslims during Islamic holidays, to keep religious tensions from boiling over, but exceptions have been made when Jewish holidays coincide.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.