Police boost Temple Mount security amid heightened holiday tensions
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1,043 visit Mount on Sunday, of whom 168 are Israeli Jews and the rest tourists, police say

Police boost Temple Mount security amid heightened holiday tensions

13 Jewish visitors and one Palestinian removed from compound Sunday for ‘disturbing the peace’; 3,500 officers patrolling capital over festival

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Israeli security forces stand guard as a group of Jews leave the Temple Mount on April 24, 2016. (AFP/AHMAD GHARABLI)
Israeli security forces stand guard as a group of Jews leave the Temple Mount on April 24, 2016. (AFP/AHMAD GHARABLI)

Fearing unrest during the ongoing festival of Passover, police have bolstered security in Jerusalem’s Old City and on the Temple Mount in an attempt to prevent disturbances at the flashpoint religious site.

Thirteen Jewish visitors were removed from the Temple Mount compound Sunday for “disturbing the peace,” according to police, including three minors. One Palestinian was removed.

Israel is concerned that Jewish visits to the Mount during the week-long holiday could trigger renewed Palestinian unrest, which has appeared to subside in recent weeks after six months of intense street violence.

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.

“The police are working and will continue to work with determination against any attempt to disturb the public peace and security, without favoritism,” a police statement read.

During Passover, one of three Jewish pilgrimage holidays, tens of thousands of Jews flock to the Old City of Jerusalem, including many who visit the flashpoint Temple Mount compound, where Jews are forbidden by police to pray.

Police hold back right-wing Jewish activists at the entrance to the Temple Mount compound, holy to both Islam and Judaism, in Jerusalem's Old City, on April 10, 2016. (Corina Kern/Flash90)
Police hold back right-wing Jewish activists at the entrance to the Temple Mount compound, holy to both Islam and Judaism, in Jerusalem’s Old City, on April 10, 2016. (Corina Kern/Flash90)

In total 1,043 people visited the site Sunday, of whom 168 were Israeli Jews and the rest foreign tourists, police said.

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.

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 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.

The Temple Mount has been at the center of months-long tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, who fear growing Jewish presence at the site that is also home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Knesset members and ministers have been banned from entering the Temple Mount compound over Passover “for security reasons.”

But 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, which is custodian of the site, said that Palestinians had protested the placement of recording devices.

Israel has said it still wants the cameras.

Jewish worshipers cover themselves with prayer shawls during the Passover priestly blessing ceremony as they pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, April 17, 2014. (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Jewish worshipers cover themselves with prayer shawls during the Passover priestly blessing ceremony as they pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, April 17, 2014. (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Last year, more than 50,000 Jewish worshipers attended the Birkat Kohanim (priestly blessing) ceremony at the Western Wall, which will be held on Monday this year.

Israel has also closed off all crossing points for Palestiniansfrom the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, fearing a flareup in the ongoing wave of violence.

Those fears were exacerbated last week, when a Palestinian suicide bomber set off a bomb on a bus in Jerusalem, wounding 20 people. The bomber, a 19-year-old Hamas terrorist from the Bethlehem area, died of wounds he sustained in the blast.

AP, AFP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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