Jerusalem police closed the Temple Mount to non-Muslim visitors Tuesday morning, citing security concerns — a surprise announcement that caused many holiday pilgrims and tourists to be turned away at the site.
“Security assessments were made, due to the fact that there was general intelligence that there would be disturbances on the Temple Mount, and therefore, for security reasons, we’ve closed the Temple Mount to visitors for the moment,” Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told the Times of Israel.
Rosenfeld said the closure applied to “visitors, Christians and Jews” but that Muslims still had access. A new security assessment would be made Tuesday afternoon, he said.
Hundreds were turned away, including several buses of school children visiting for the Sukkot holiday, Israel National News reported. MK Shuli Muallem of the Jewish Home party was among those turned away.
The sensitive Temple Mount area, holy to both Muslims and Jews and a frequent site of clashes, is controlled by the Muslim Waqf, but security is overseen by Israel. Non-Muslims are allowed to visit, but all non-Muslim religious ritual is banned.
Just before the Jewish New Year, on September 4, 15 Palestinians were arrested after fighting with police, and hundreds of Muslims were denied access.
Security forces have been on high alert during the entire High Holiday period.
The Temple Mount closure came during the Sukkot holiday, which traditionally sees increased Jewish visits to the Temple Mount, and days after two Israeli soldiers were killed in separate West Bank incidents, leading to fears of renewed violence.
However, defense officials said that they do not expect a significant rise in violence as a result of the killings.
Palestinian youth clashed with Israeli forces overnight in Nablus, where hundreds of Jewish worshipers had visited to pray at Joseph’s Tomb, Maan News reported. The IDF allows Jews to reach the site once a month.
On Monday, Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu announced that in response to the killing of the two soldiers he would allow settlers immediate access to Beit Hamachpela, a contested house in Hebron previously occupied by Jews but subsequently closed by court order.
According to an Israel National News report, on Monday evening a group of Israelis had already entered the property, including MK Orit Struck of the Jewish Home party.