Israel Police on Tuesday beefed up its presence in Jerusalem after three days of violent clashes with Palestinian protesters on the Temple Mount, as a UN envoy warned the skirmishes could spark a broader conflict.
Acting Police Commissioner Bentzi Sau said Tuesday that police actions on the Temple Mount in recent days were based on valid intelligence reports, and vowed to bring violent protesters to justice.
“Over the past three days, we have seen attempts by a number of individuals who are trying to aggravate and exacerbate the security situation in Jerusalem, and destabilize the security and peaceful coexistence in the city,” he said.
Sau ordered an open-ended reinforcement of Israel’s security presence in the capital until calm was restored. Hundreds of additional officers are being deployed, with the goal of thwarting more violence and arresting those responsible for attacks in recent days.
Sau said there’d been “an upsurge” in attacks, including stone-throwing and petrol-bomb throwing at police.
“We are determined to prevent disturbances and will bring those who violate the calm or harm police officers of civilians to justice,” he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was convening senior ministers and security chiefs Saturday night to discuss new strategies for countering the upsurge in violence, which saw several incidents in the Jerusalem area over Rosh Hashanah.
In the worst of these, an Israeli man, Alexander Levlovitz, was killed when stones were thrown at his car in East Talpiot, he lost control and slammed into a lamppost.
In three straight days of clashes on the Temple Mount, police said dozens of Palestinian youths stayed overnight in the al-Aqsa Mosque, and prepared petrol bombs, rocks, fireworks and other means to attack police and Jewish visitors to the holy site. Security officials blamed the Muslim authorities at the site for allowing it to be abused.
In the Arab world, meanwhile, leaders issued a stream of denunciations of Israel’s actions at the site, with Jordan’s King Abdullah warning that bilateral ties would be affected if the violence continued.
From Sunday to Tuesday, Israeli security forces arrested 26 Palestinian protesters, and 14 Israeli police officers were lightly injured by rocks and firecrackers hurled at them, Ynet reported. Dozens of Arab protesters were injured as well, Channel 2 reported.
Additionally, three Israeli civilians were lightly injured in Jerusalem’s Old City Tuesday morning after being attacked by a Palestinian. The perpetrator was apprehended by police shortly after the attack.
UN coordinator Nickolay Mladenov warned the Security Council Tuesday that the clashes at Jerusalem’s flashpoint al-Aqsa Mosque compound could ignite a broader conflict.
“As the Middle East faces a vicious tide of terror and extremism, such serious provocations have the potential to ignite violence well beyond the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem,” Mladenov said.
The clashes began Sunday morning, with security forces seizing pipe bombs at the site in an operation carried out hours before Jews prepared to celebrate the Jewish New Year. The Shin Bet security service alerted police to the cache, apparently an effort by Palestinians to stock up on bombs, flares and rocks ahead of an organized riot.
The police said its forces had entered the site, after protesters began throwing stones and firecrackers at the Mughrabi Gate, the access point for non-Muslim visitors to the site. Police said that protesters had wedged open a door to the mosque, which officers had later closed, allowing visits to the Temple Mount to continue as scheduled.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog on Tuesday condemned the escalating violence in the capital and the fatal terror attack that killed Levlovitz on Sunday night as a “heartbreaking” start to the Jewish New Year.
“Jerusalem is burning, and it has been for several months,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “This is a war of knives, stones and vehicular attacks.”
Herzog criticized the Netanyahu government’s response to the escalating violence, and called on the prime minister to take practical action to curb mounting tensions instead of “calling emergency meetings and interfering with the work of judges.”
Following the deadly stone-throwing attack, Netanyahu called an emergency meeting Tuesday night to discuss the violence on the Temple Mount.
In recent weeks, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan has initiated a bid to block the promotion of judges who issue lenient sentences for Palestinians convicted of stone throwing.
Meanwhile, Sheikh Kamal Khatib of the Islamic Movement charged in a Tuesday interview that the recent clashes were an Israeli attempt to take over the al-Aqsa Mosque, and called on Palestinians to take to the streets in protest.
“Israel believes that it is time to build its temple,” he told the Arabic al-Mayadeen TV station, according to Walla news, referring to a fringe Jewish initiative to re-build a Jewish temple on the holy site.
Khatib charged that Israel’s right-wing government ignited a religious war against Muslims and Palestinians across the globe, and was using the divided Palestinian leadership and the ongoing regional violence to advance its plans to take over the Temple Mount.
The UN and US have urged restraint on both sides amid the latest clashes, while Jordan, which has custodianship rights over Muslim holy places in Jerusalem under its 1994 peace treaty with Israel, has warned that ties are at stake.
The White House on Tuesday also said it was deeply concerned the uptick in violence in Jerusalem. Spokesman Josh Earnest called on all sides to “exercise restraint” and “refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric” on the Temple Mount.
“The reported violence and escalation (at the site) constitute a provocation and incitement” ahead of important Jewish and Muslim holy days, European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told reporters in Brussels.
“It is crucial that all parties demonstrate calm and restraint and full respect for the status quo of the holy sites,” Kocijancic said.
The 28-nation EU recently “issued an appeal for full respect of the holy sites and said very clearly that any change of the status quo would have deeply destabilizing effects,” she added.
Also Tuesday, the Hamas terror organization said Israeli action at the Temple Mount constituted a “declaration of war,” while Iran called for an emergency meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to condemn Israel.