Jewish visitors were allowed to visit the flashpoint Temple Mount site on Sunday morning, hours after a number of Palestinians barricaded themselves inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque overnight, stoking initial fears of clashes.
Israel Police decided not to enter the building in the early hours of the morning, apparently to avoid scenes of violence and any potential spillover.
According to Channel 12 news, police recognized that those barricaded inside “had not brought with them the kinds of things” that could have caused a violent incident, and they were “evacuated” in the early morning hours “in relative quiet” as the Jewish visitors to the mount started to arrive.
Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer told CNN that, in contrast to last week, when some Palestinians in the mosque were planning violence, necessitating police intervention, those in the mosque overnight Saturday-Sunday were not seeking confrontation.
Some Muslim worshipers were reportedly prevented from accessing the site for Ramadan prayer.
At the conclusion of dawn prayers, police began to allow Jewish visitors into the sensitive compound, under guard and in groups of around 20.
According to an activist Temple Mount group, there were 842 Jewish visitors on Sunday, and 1,041 in total during the Passover holiday — marking a 43 percent increase in the rate of average Jewish visits.
Some Muslim worshippers at the site shouted at the Jewish visitors, but there were no reports of violence.
In a statement, Jordan’s Foreign Ministry condemned the Jewish visits to the Temple Mount on Sunday, warning of “catastrophic consequences” should Israel not cease what it says are violations of the status quo at the fragile holy site.
The statement carried by the official Petra mouthpiece warned “that the Israeli police forces’ violation of the sanctity of the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque / Al-Haram Al-Qudsi Al-Sharif and assaulting worshipers again in an attempt to empty it of worshipers, in preparation for major incursions into the mosque, will push the situation towards more tension and violence, for which everyone will pay the price.”
A slightly different statement carried by Petra in Arabic made clear that Jordan condemned Jewish visits under Israel Police protection and noted that only Muslim prayer is permitted at the site. It claimed exclusive jurisdiction for the Jordanian-funded Waqf, which administers the site.
“The Israeli government bears responsibility for the escalation in Jerusalem and in all the occupied Palestinian territories and for the deterioration that will worsen” if it does not halt incursions into the holy site or “terrorization” of worshipers, the statement read.
Israel has vowed repeatedly to maintain the status quo at the site, whereby Jews are allowed to visit there — under numerous restrictions and only during limited hours — but not pray. However, Jews have increasingly been allowed to quietly pray there, while Palestinians have instigated violence at the site and unilaterally designated more parts of the site for prayer.
Israel captured the Temple Mount and Jerusalem’s Old City from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. However, it allowed the Jordanian Waqf to continue to maintain religious authority atop the mount. Under their 1994 peace treaty, Israel recognized Amman’s “special role… in Muslim holy shrines in Jerusalem.”
The Foreign Ministry overnight had urged the Waqf authorities to “immediately remove” the Palestinians who had barricaded themselves in Al-Aqsa but was rebuffed by Amman.
“Those who desecrate the sanctity of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and barricade themselves inside it are a dangerous mob, radicalized and incited by Hamas and other terror organizations,” the Foreign Ministry said.
“We call on Jordan, through the Waqf guards, to immediately remove from the Al-Aqsa Mosque these extremists who are planning to riot tomorrow during Muslim prayers on the Temple Mount and the Priestly Blessing at the Western Wall.”
A senior official in Amman cited by Jordanian media accused Jerusalem of trying to “fabricate the facts” regarding the issue.
The unnamed official said that Israel was attempting to “put the responsibility on the Waqf for the dangerous escalation stemming from Israel’s attacks on worshipers.”
The official said Amman has refused to accept Israeli messages conveyed through mediators, adding that it will accept direct messages from Jerusalem if they include promises to “stop violating the status quo, stop the attacks on worshipers and cancel the restrictions on freedom of worship.”
Last week, police entered the mosque for what they said was an operation to quell rioting, following which volleys of rockets were fired at Israel from Lebanon and Gaza, leading to Israeli retaliatory airstrikes. On Friday afternoon, two sisters were murdered and their mother was critically injured in a West Bank shooting. In the evening an Italian tourist was killed and several others were hurt in a car-ramming at Tel Aviv’s beach promenade.
In an interview with CNN on Sunday, Strategic Affairs Minister Dermer, referring to scenes of police beating Palestinians inside the mosque overnight Tuesday-Wednesday, said the police had reluctantly entered but had no choice but to do so:
“You had about 300 young men, who were masked and who armed themselves with rocks and with incendiary explosives and with weapons. And what they were trying to do the next morning, as non-Jews and Jews were going to go and visit the Temple Mount, they were planning to attack them and to actually have Muslim worshippers — could have been tens of thousands of them on the Temple Mount — they could have been innocent bystanders in this attack,” Dermer said.
“So our police went in there and removed those people and then enabled the next day for Muslims to go to that site and to pray peacefully… What peaceful worshippers would actually use fireworks and desecrate the mosque? We do not want to go in there. It is the last thing,” he said.
“And fortunately today, we didn’t have to go in, because the people who were in there did not go there according to our intelligence, to perpetrate violence. And so therefore there were no incidents. It is very rare when Israeli police have to go into the Al-Aqsa compound. I think it’s happened three times in the last half-dozen years. It is the last thing that we want to do.” Dermer added.
According to police last Wednesday, dozens of masked youths had barricaded themselves inside the mosque with fireworks, clubs and rocks following evening prayers, while locking the doors and placing barricades at the entrances.
הפלסטינים מדווחים – שוטרים עם אלות מכים מתפללים ללא אבחנה באלות ובנשק, אחרי שנכנסו למסגד. pic.twitter.com/QZooMwaXsk
— Deiaa haj yahia-ضياء حاج يحيى (@DeiaaHaj) April 4, 2023
The Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which this year once again coincides with the Jewish festival of Passover, is known to be a period of high tensions between Israeli forces and Palestinians. Tens of thousands of worshipers visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque throughout the month, regularly leading to a spike in tensions and violence with Israel.
The Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, is the holiest site for Jews and the third-holiest shrine in Islam.
Israel, as in previous years, is reportedly set to bar Jews from entering the Temple Mount holy site during the last 10 days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said Saturday he opposed the move, asserting that it “will be a surrender to terrorism.”
A Waqf official told Channel 12 that allowing non-Muslims at the site during the 10 days would be “a dangerous provocation that will lead to igniting the Middle East.”
“All Israeli governments in the last decade followed the agreements to allow the prayers of the tens of thousands of Muslims who come to Al-Aqsa Mosque without interruption. Deviating from this policy and the deals is irresponsible and dangerous,” the official said.
Around 10,000 Jewish worshipers gathered at the Western Wall on Sunday morning for the semi-annual priestly blessing ceremony, known in Hebrew as “birkat kohanim.” The event is held on the intermediate days of the Passover and Sukkot festivals.