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Bennett: 'Orderly and safe' ascent of Jews should continue

Amid tensions at Temple Mount, some 1,700 Jews visit holy site for Tisha B’Av

Palestinian worshipers clash with police, but no confirmed injuries or arrests; Hamas mocks Jewish visitors to site on fast day as ‘straying herds of settlers’

A member of the Israeli security forces stands guard as a group of Jews enters the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, during the annual Tisha B'Av fast day, on July 18, 2021. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
A member of the Israeli security forces stands guard as a group of Jews enters the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, during the annual Tisha B'Av fast day, on July 18, 2021. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Some 1,700 Jews visited the Temple Mount on Sunday to mark the fast day of Tisha B’Av, which mourns the destruction of the two Jewish Temples that stood there, hours after Palestinian worshipers clashed with police at the holy site.

In the wake of the clashes, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held an assessment of the security situation with Internal Security Minister Omer Barlev and police chief Kobi Shabtai, with the premier’s office saying in a statement that he had “instructed that the orderly and safe ascent of Jews to the Temple Mount should continue, while order is maintained at the site.”

The statement said the prime minister would receive regular updates and would hold additional situation assessments throughout the day.

The Temple Mount is the holiest place in Judaism, as the site of the two biblical temples. It is also the site of the third-holiest shrine in Islam, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and has long been a flashpoint between Israelis and Palestinians.

Dozens of Muslim worshipers barricaded themselves on the Temple Mount in the early hours of Sunday, ahead of the arrival of the Jewish visitors. Some of them briefly chanted: “With spirit, with blood, we’ll redeem Al-Aqsa.”

Israeli police entered the site and used sponge-tipped bullets and “crowd dispersal methods” to clear the area. Israel Police said that some Palestinians threw stones.

In another video from the scene, officers could be seen dragging a woman wearing a long black veil. It was not clear what immediately preceded the incident.

According to Palestinian media, several Palestinian activists were detained following clashes with police. A spokesperson for Israeli police did not respond to a request for comment.

In Ramallah, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned what he deemed “the dangerous and ongoing Israeli escalation.”

“The Palestinian Presidency…considers this a grave threat to security and stability, and a provocation to the feelings of Palestinians, and holds the Israeli government responsible for this escalation,” Abbas’s office said in a statement.

The European Union’s mission to the Palestinians said it was “concerned over [the] ongoing tensions.”

“Israeli authorities, religious, and community leaders from all sides should act urgently to calm down this explosive situation,” the organization wrote in a tweet.

A Palestinian woman approaches a checkpoint as an ultra-Orthodox Jewish teen prays outside the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem, during the annual Tisha B’Av fast day on July 18, 2021. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

Hamas, the Palestinian terror group that rules Gaza, mocked the “straying herds of settlers” ascending the Temple Mount.

“That the occupation is giving free rein to these straying herds of settlers does not reflect control or sovereignty, but rather is an attempt to cover up for impotence and deficiency,” Mohammad Hamadah, a Hamas spokesperson, said in a statement.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group called the clashes “terrorism and aggression that affects all Muslims in the world.”

Senior Palestinian Authority official Hussein al-Sheikh — one of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s closest advisers — condemned Israeli police actions at the site.

“The storming of  the Al-Aqsa Mosque is an Israeli political decision to establish facts on the ground, in defiance of the international community’s will, and bodes poorly for the orientation of the new government in Israel,” al-Sheikh tweeted.

Jewish men pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, during the annual Tisha B’Av fast day on July 18, 2021. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

Muslim clergy in East Jerusalem called on followers to come to the site, as this week marks the start of Eid al-Adha, one of the holiest festivals in the Islamic calendar. The holiday often sees mass congregational prayer on the Temple Mount.

The annual fast day of Tisha B’Av sees the largest numbers of Jewish worshipers visiting the site, and police have bolstered their presence in the area in anticipation of potential tensions.

Among those visiting the Temple Mount Sunday morning was rebel Yamina MK Amichai Chikli, who told Arutz Sheva that the site was “the most significant national symbol that the people of Israel have.”

Chikli was turned away from the Temple Mount last month after failing to coordinate his visit with the Knesset Guard and the Shin Bet.

Sunday’s clashes came a day after a report said Israel has quietly started allowing Jewish prayers on the Temple Mount in recent months, in what would appear to be a major change to the status quo that has existed at the holy site since the Jewish state captured the Old City of Jerusalem from Jordan during 1967’s Six Day War.

Anxious to reduce friction with the Muslim world, and given that Orthodox sages generally counsel against ascending the Temple Mount for fear of treading on the sacred ground where the Temple’s Holy of Holies stood, Israel since 1967 has allowed the Jordanian Waqf to maintain religious authority atop the mount.

Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, as reported by Channel 12 news, July 17, 2021 (Channel 12 screenshot)

Jews have been allowed to visit under numerous restrictions, but not to pray.

A Channel 12 reporter, however, in recent days filmed prayers taking place at the site, as policemen — who in the past would eject any person suspected of prayer, and sometimes kicked people out for merely citing a biblical verse while speaking — passively looked on.

The report said that in addition to prayers, lengthy Torah lessons have been held on the Mount, again with the tacit approval of the police.

Palestinian terror groups have tied rocket fire from Gaza that sparked 11 days of conflict with Israel in May to unrest in the capital connected to both clashes on the Temple Mount during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the pending eviction of a number of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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