Jerusalem’s Temple Mount complex was opened to Jews Sunday morning for the first time in 20 days, amid simmering tensions at the holy site that played a major role in sparking hostilities with the Hamas terror group in Gaza and violence across Israel.
Several groups of visitors escorted by Israeli police ascended to the site from 7 a.m., following a decision by security officials to allow access to Jews.
Army Radio reported that Israel Police restricted the movement of Muslim worshipers at the site.
The Temple Mount is the holiest place in Judaism, as the site of the biblical Temples. It is the site of the third-holiest shrine in Islam, the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Israel captured the Temple Mount and Jerusalem’s Old City in the 1967 Six Day War and extended sovereignty throughout Jerusalem. However, it allowed the Jordanian Waqf to continue to maintain religious authority atop the mount, where Jews are allowed to visit under numerous restrictions, but not to pray.
Jews have been barred from visiting the Temple Mount since May 3, when authorities made the decision to shutter the compound to non-Muslims amid spiraling tensions in the city.
Major clashes broke out at the site between police and Palestinian rioters later that day, leaving hundreds wounded.
Hours later, the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group threatened to fire rockets at Israel if it did not withdraw police from the Temple Mount and the nearby East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Hamas then launched projectiles at the capital and other parts of the country and set off 11 days of fighting between Israel and Gaza terror groups that ended early Friday with a ceasefire.
Friday saw Palestinians again clash with police on the Temple Mount, mere hours after the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas went into effect. It was not immediately clear how the confrontation erupted. According to Israeli police, officers acted to contain a riot by Palestinian worshipers at the scene.
Renewed clashes also broke out Saturday between police and dozens of protesters in Sheikh Jarrah, an East Jerusalem neighborhood that has been a key flashpoint over the pending eviction of several Palestinian families from homes claimed by Jews. The Palestinians live in houses built on land that Israeli courts have ruled were owned by Jewish religious associations before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. The Supreme Court will hold a hearing on the Palestinian families’ appeal.
On Saturday night, the head of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, Moshe Gafni, urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to reopen the Temple Mount to Jewish visitors.
“Not ascending to the Temple Mount is the deepest proof of our belonging to this holy place to which we direct our prayers,” said UTJ chairman Moshe Gafni, a close ally of the prime minister. “I ask you to keep the Temple Mount closed to Jews!”
Many Haredim believe Jews should not enter the site due to its holiness.
Gafni’s comments could spark disagreement within Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc of supporters, which includes the premier’s Likud party, ultra-Orthodox Shas, UTJ and far-right Religious Zionism.
Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich said Thursday that Netanyahu “can forget about forming a government” if the ceasefire with Hamas contains anything related to Jerusalem. Religious Zionism members were also critical of the initial decision to close the Temple Mount.
Far-right Religious Zionism MK Itamar Ben-Gvir on Saturday night condemned Gafni’s call and urged the government to allow Jewish visitors into the compound from Sunday morning.
“The [Temple] Mount must be open to Jews by tomorrow morning at 7 a.m. Closing the [Temple] Mount [to Jews] is a capitulation to Hamas,” he said.
Israeli politicians have said the ceasefire was unconditional, with “calm in exchange for calm.” Hamas said that it demanded Israeli concessions at the Temple Mount in exchange for the truce.