Israel slams Jordanian king over Temple Mount violence

Israel slams Jordanian king over Temple Mount violence

As police prepare for tense Jewish, Muslim holidays in Jerusalem, Israel says Waqf, under Amman’s auspices, broke fragile status quo

Palestinian protesters at a demonstration in solidarity with protesters at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, September 18, 2015. (Flash90)
Palestinian protesters at a demonstration in solidarity with protesters at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, September 18, 2015. (Flash90)

Israel accused Jordan’s King Abdullah of sharing “responsibility” for the continuing clashes on the Temple Mount Monday, a day after Amman’s king said the site was for Muslims only.

Jerusalem police braced for continuing violence in and around the capital as Muslims and Jewish holidays overlap in the coming days, restricting access to the Temple Mount in a bid to quell violence atop the compound.

“Don’t run away from your responsibility,” an unusually sharp Israeli message to the Jordanian leader read, according to Channel 2 TV.

“The Waqf” [an Islamic trust that oversees the Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount] “broke the status quo by letting rioters armed with stones sleep in the al-Aqsa Mosque,” Israel charged, referring to three days of violence on the holy site last week, during the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah.

The Waqf operates under the auspices of the Jordanian monarchy.

King Abdullah on Sunday told a delegation of visiting Israeli Arab Knesset members that the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City was for “Muslim prayer only.”

He reiterated his criticism of Israel’s response to the recent escalation in violence on the Temple Mount, where the mosque compound is situated. Israeli security forces have repeatedly clashed with Muslim protesters in and around the Temple Mount over the past week. The clashes were triggered by a police raid at the mosque in the run-up to the Jewish new year festival of Rosh Hashanah that turned up pipe bombs, stockpiles of rocks and firecrackers as well as a barricade at an entrance to the al-Aqsa mosque.

King Abdullah II of Jordan addresses the audience during the opening session of the World Economic Forum at the King Hussein convention center, Southern Shuneh, Jordan, Friday, May 22, 2015 (AP/Nasser Nasser)
King Abdullah II of Jordan addresses the opening session of the World Economic Forum at the King Hussein Convention Center, Southern Shuneh, Jordan, May 22, 2015. (AP/Nasser Nasser)

“What is Netanyahu trying to achieve with this action; is he trying to cause an explosion?” Abdullah said during a meeting with members of the Joint (Arab) List in Amman, the Hebrew-language Maariv website reported.

Abdullah said that the recent unrest on the Temple Mount — the holiest site in Judaism and the third-holiest in Islam — would be on the agenda during his meetings at the UN next week.

The king, in a meeting with the president of the European Union on Sunday, also urged the EU to take a firm stand against Israel over the clashes.

“The international community, and the EU in particular, should adopt a firm position to halt these serious aggressions and violations” by the Jewish state, he told Donald Tusk.

Fearing “the intentions of Arab youths to cause disorder” on the holy site over the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, police said in a statement Monday evening it would not allow entry to the Temple Mount to Muslim men under 40. Women worshipers will be allowed to enter the site without restrictions, as well as men over 40.

The Jerusalem Police also saw its ranks boosted ahead of the holiday, “with an emphasis on the alleyways of the Old City and the [approach] routes of worshipers” to the Temple Mount, the police statement said.

Thousands of police will be deployed in the capital ahead of Yom Kippur — which begins Tuesday evening — and the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, which starts the following night and continues until Sunday.

Authorities said 66 people had been arrested in Jerusalem over the past week, including some detained in connection with the unrest on the Temple Mount, which saw Israeli police clash with rioters.

On Yom Kippur, tens of thousands of Jews are expected to visit the Western Wall below the Temple Mount, which is known as Haram al-Sharif, or the al-Aqsa compound, by Muslims.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon ordered a full closure on the West Bank and the shutting of all crossings between Israel and Gaza over the Yom Kippur holiday.

The West Bank closure will begin at noon on Tuesday and last until midnight on Wednesday night.

“During the closure, passage will be allowed only in humanitarian, medical or other special circumstances, with the approval of the [IDF’s] Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement Monday.

On Monday night, police began to restrict traffic around Jerusalem’s Old City and set up checkpoints leading to its holy sites.

The Temple Mount will be open to visits as usual on Wednesday, but during the four-day Eid holiday only Muslims will be allowed access, police said.

Last week’s clashes occurred during the Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah.

Police said they raided the Temple Mount to stop youths who had barricaded themselves inside the mosque from disrupting visits by Jews and tourists.

Clashes broke out during the raids, with protesters throwing fireworks, stones and other objects at police, who fired stun grenades.

There were also clashes in the alleyways of the Old City outside the compound. Friday saw further unrest in the West Bank and sporadically in Jerusalem.

Muslims have expressed anger over visits by Jews to the site and fear rules governing the compound will be changed. Under a five-decade-old status quo — established by Israel after it conquered the site in the 1967 Six Day War — Jews are allowed to visit the Temple Mount, but not to pray there.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said repeatedly he is committed to the status quo at the site.

Israel has also deployed two Iron Dome anti-missile batteries around the southern cities of Sderot and Netivot out of concern that a possible escalation of violence in Jerusalem could result in rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

Three rockets were fired into southern Israel in recent days from the Palestinian enclave controlled by the Islamist Hamas group, without causing any direct casualties.

Tamar Pileggi, AP and AFP contributed to this report.

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