Jerusalem court orders closure of disputed building on Temple Mount
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Jerusalem court orders closure of disputed building on Temple Mount

Tensions have soared over shuttered Gate of Mercy site in recent weeks, with Palestinian protesters ripping off its doors on Friday

Border Police officers secure one of the entrances of the Temple Mount compound in the Old City of Jerusalem after closing the access to the site on March 12, 2019. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
Border Police officers secure one of the entrances of the Temple Mount compound in the Old City of Jerusalem after closing the access to the site on March 12, 2019. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

A Jerusalem court on Sunday ordered the temporary closure of a building at the center of rising tensions on the city’s Temple Mount in recent weeks.

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court said the building known as the Gate of Mercy or Golden Gate on the Temple Mount should be closed while legal proceedings continue.

The site’s administrator, the Waqf religious organization, was given 60 days to respond.

The Jordanian Foreign Ministry rapped the decision, arguing that the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court did not even have the authority to rule on matters pertaining to the Temple Mount because it is “occupied territory.”

“East Jerusalem, which includes the Al-Aqsa Mosqua, is part of the Palestinian lands occupied since 1967. The area is not subject to Israeli law,” Amman said in a statement.

The foreign ministry called on Israel to cancel the court’s decision and not harm the status quo at the flashpoint site.

The court order came two days after Palestinian worshipers ripped the doors off the building shortly after Friday prayers, despite instructions from the Waqf urging calm.

A group of protesters also raised the Palestinian flag on the roof of the building, which was then removed by police.

A girl walks past a door broken off the Gate of Mercy by Palestinians at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City on March 15, 2019. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

The Gate of Mercy was sealed by Israeli authorities in 2003 because the group managing the area had ties to Hamas, and it has been kept closed to stop illegal construction work there by the Waqf that Israeli officials said had caused irreparable harm to archaeologically significant parts of the holy site.

Israeli officials believe the work carried out by the Waqf, which refused to allow any Israeli observers, has led to the destruction of antiquities from periods of Jewish presence in the area.

The Waqf has repeatedly challenged the closure, convening and staging prayer-protests in the area that often erupted into clashes with police.

Last month, the Waqf reopened the site and Palestinian worshipers began to use it as a mosque, despite Israeli attempts to keep the area sealed.

Since then, several low-level clashes have broken out between Palestinian worshipers and Israeli security forces. On Thursday, police sealed off the entire Temple Mount after a firebomb was thrown at an officer, who was lightly hurt in the attack.

An Israeli policeman holds back a Palestinian woman outside the Old City in Jerusalem after police closed the entrance to al-Aqsa mosque compound on the Temple Mount following a firebomb attack on a police post at the site, on March 12, 2019. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

High-level Israeli and Jordanian officials have been holding talks in the hope of defusing the situation. Earlier this month, Israeli officials traveled to Jordan for meetings, and Jordanian officials have also visited Jerusalem, according to Israeli reports.

The talks were ongoing and the sides have yet to come to an agreement, the Haaretz daily reported this week.

Jordan has suggested that the site be closed for long-term renovations. While the Israelis agree, they insist it must first be closed without renovations taking place, as a statement of Israeli authority. This disagreement has reportedly stood in the way of a deal.

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