Jordanian, Palestinian and left-wing Israeli officials on Sunday, Jerusalem Day, slammed Israel for allowing Jews into the Temple Mount compound in the capital’s Old City — an unusual move during the last ten days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan — and for the ensuing clashes, but Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan dismissed the criticism, saying his policy was to make the contested compound open to those who want to visit it.
It was the first time in three decades that non-Muslims were let into the site during the final days of Ramadan, which coincided this year with Jerusalem Day — the 52nd anniversary of the unification of the capital in the Six Day War.
Police said that after the decision was made to let them in, Palestinians inside the compound started a riot “that included the hurling of stones, chairs and various objects. Subsequently, Jerusalem District Commander Maj. Gen. Doron Yadid ordered police forces to enter the Temple Mount and deal with the rioters.”
There were no reports of injuries. By mid-afternoon, police reported that the situation was again calm.
Hundreds of Jews showed up early Sunday morning at the Temple Mount entrance, demanding access to the site — the holiest in Judaism and the third-holiest to Muslims, who refer to it as the Al Aqsa Mosque compound or the Noble Sanctuary. Following a security assessment, police decided to let them in after suppressing the Muslim demonstration.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) June 2, 2019
Police said later in the morning that clashes broke out again and that hundreds of rioters threw rocks and chairs at Israeli security personnel. According to Ir Amim, a left-wing group, the violence was renewed after police closed the entrance to the Al Aqsa Mosque, and worshipers attempted to gain entry. Palestinian reports said at least five people were detained and removed from the site.
Several Jordanian ministers and politicians blamed Israel for the events, and the Jordanian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it “unequivocally condemns the continuation of Israeli violations against Al-Aqsa, by the break-in of extremists [to the Temple Mount] in a defiant manner with the backing of security forces,” according to a Hebrew translation by the Ynet news site.
The ministry also warned of “the dangerous ramifications of the provocative Israeli policies, which could lead to a new escalation of violence that threatens the entire region.”
Jordan is recognized as the custodian of the holy site as part of the 1994 peace treaty with Israel, and is often quick to attack Israel when clashes erupt at the contested site.
Under an arrangement in place since Israel’s victory in the 1967 war, non-Muslims are allowed to visit the Temple Mount but not to pray there. Jews are allowed to enter in small groups during limited hours, but are taken through a predetermined route, are closely watched and are prohibited from praying or displaying any religious or national symbols.
The flashpoint site is always closed to non-Muslims on the last ten days of Ramadan, when large numbers of worshipers are at the compound. The last time the Temple Mount was closed to Jews on Jerusalem Day was in 1988, when it also coincided with the end of Ramadan.
Last year, more than 2,000 Jews visited the site on Jerusalem Day, under close police supervision. According to Temple Mount activist Arnon Segal, the number of Jews who entered on Sunday morning was 1,162.
Palestinian Authority top negotiator Saeb Erekat denounced what he termed “attacks by the Israeli occupation authority and its provocations in the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” saying they were “dragging the region into a new cycle of violence that will threaten the security of the entire region.”
Sunday’s events followed a Palestinian terror attack in the Old City on Friday, in which a teenager stabbed and wounded two Israeli civilians — one of them seriously — before he was shot dead by police.
Hamas, the Palestinian terror group which rules the Gaza Strip, likewise on Sunday condemned the “brutal attack by the occupation forces on the sanctuaries in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the storming by hundreds of extremist settlers.”
Left-wing Israeli organizations also criticized the decision to allow Jews into the Temple Mount.
“Erdan and police caved in to pressure by the Temple organizations and decided to blatantly ignore the sanctity of the second-last day of Ramadan,” the Ir Amim group said in a statement. “Instead of letting the Muslim public pray and fast in peace, police chose to help the temple organizations enter the Temple Mount and hold their political campaign calling to take the holy site out of the Muslims’ hands.”
“Instead of acting responsibly, it is regrettable that the public security minister again betrayed his mission, joined the extremists and encouraged activity that undermines the security of the residents of Jerusalem,” the Peace Now organization said in a statement.
While some of the organizations that encourage Jews to enter the compound do seek to increase Israeli control over the site at the expense of Muslims, many others claim that their mission is to achieve equal freedom of access and of worship for Jews at the Temple Mount.
Erdan defended his decision, saying “both Ramadan and Jerusalem Day will end quietly.”
“My policy since my first day in office has been to do everything in order that the Temple Mount will be open to whoever wants to visit it, most definitely on an important day like today,” Erdan told reporters ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting.
Erdan hailed police for “doing everything” to ensure visitors can access the Temple Mount and said arrests had been made ahead of Jerusalem Day “based on intelligence.”
Police last month announced the contested compound would be closed to Jews and tourists on Jerusalem Day, with the High Court of Justice rejecting a petition against the closure and leaving the final decision up to police.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.