Jordan on Sunday warned Israel against violating the status quo on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, after several hundred Jews and tourists visited the contested holy site on the first intermediate day of the Passover holiday.
The Hashemite Kingdom acts as custodian of the flashpoint religious site, which is the holiest site in Judaism and third holiest to Muslims.
Israel’s “violations against worshipers” on the holy site “are a violation of international laws and conventions” and could have “dangerous consequences,” government spokesman Muhammad Al-Momani said in a statement to the Petra state news agency.
Momani did not detail the violations, but he was likely referring to holiday measures enacted over the last several days, including expanded visiting hours for Jews and denial of entry to Palestinian worshipers during certain hours, as well as a beefed up police presence.
Momani “demanded Israeli occupation authorities to immediately stop such moves, deny entry to settlers and Israeli forces into the yards of the holy shrine and allow Palestinian worshipers to enter the mosque,” according to Petra.
Aside from Muslim worshipers, a total of 1,043 people visited the site Sunday, of whom 168 were Israeli Jews and the rest foreign tourists, police said.
Of them, 13 Jewish visitors were removed from the Temple Mount compound for “disturbing the peace,” according to police, including three minors. One Palestinian was removed.
Police did not detail why they had removed the 13 people from the site, known as the Al-Aqsa compound to Muslims, but Jews are often ejected for uttering prayers at the site, which is governed by a decades-long status quo that allows Jewish visits but prohibits Jewish prayer.
The Temple Mount, site of the Biblical Jewish temples, has been at the center of months-long tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, who fear growing a Jewish presence at the site that is also home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Israeli security officials fear extra attention to the site over the holiday could spark fresh unrest, after six months of deadly fighting seemed to die down in recent weeks.
Knesset members and ministers have been banned from entering the Temple Mount compound over Passover “for security reasons.”
Jordan has threatened to take action against Jerusalem over Temple Mount tensions in the past, including recalling diplomatic officials and downgrading ties.
A US-brokered plan to place cameras on the Temple Mount in a bid to calm tensions appeared to fall apart last week after Jordan said that Palestinians had protested the placement of recording devices.
Israel has said it still wants the cameras.
During Passover, one of three Jewish pilgrimage holidays, tens of thousands of Jews flock to the Old City, including many who visit the Temple Mount.
Amid concerns of a terror attack on the worshipers, and fearing general unrest, police bolstered security in Jerusalem for the festival this week.
Security forces continued to be on high alert Monday in Jerusalem’s Old City ahead of the Birkat Kohanim (priestly blessing) ceremony at the Western Wall, which is expected to draw thousands of Jewish worshipers.
The ceremony, which sees male descendants of the Kohanim priestly caste gather to bless crowds, involves the raising of hands in a form similar to the “Vulcan salute” which Leonard Nimoy borrowed from Judaism for his “Star Trek” role as Mr. Spock. Those conducting the blessing also cover their heads with prayer shawls.
Last year, 50,000 Jews gathered at the Western Wall for the priestly blessing.
In total, 3,500 officers will be patrolling the capital throughout the week, police said, after tensions surged last week following a bus bombing — the first in the capital in over a decade.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last week Israel would deploy reinforcements around the Temple Mount during Passover to prevent “riots.”
“As Passover approaches, all sorts of extremists will spread lies about our policy concerning the Temple Mount,” he said.
Police have said they intend to allow Jewish visits to the Temple Mount site to continue as normal during the holiday, though they won’t allow disturbances.
“We will not allow disturbances of public order or security, and we will act decisively against anyone who tries to do so,” police spokesperson Luba Samri said in a statement Sunday morning.
On Friday police detained 10 Jewish men suspected of planning to sacrifice goats on the Mount in honor of the Passover holiday.
In ancient times, Jews used to sacrifice a lamb on Passover Eve and eat it as part of the traditional Seder meal. Nearly all Jews forgo this ritual today.
AP, AFP contributed to this report.