The Israel Police said Friday morning it would leave contentious metal detectors in place at the entrances to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount amid calls by Muslim leaders for mass protests against the new security arrangements at the holy site.
In a statement, police said the decision came “in light of the events of recent days, which included violent riots near the gates of the Temple Mount and at other sites in villages in East Jerusalem.”
It also cited intelligence information that said “extremist elements” intended “to cause violent disruptions to the public order, and thereby to threaten the public peace, including the [safety] of those coming to pray at the holy sites and other residents of the area.”
The high-level security cabinet voted early Friday to grant the Israel Police the authority to decide which security measures would be implemented at the holy site.
The metal detectors were installed following a terror attack last Friday at the Temple Mount that saw three Arab Israeli gunmen shoot and kill two Israeli police officers.
“The cabinet has authorized the Israel Police to make any decision in order to ensure free access to the holy sites while upholding security and public order,” a late-night statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said, after hours of consultations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ministers and security chiefs.
Following internal police consultations on Friday morning, Jerusalem Police chief Yoram Halevi ordered the continued operation of the metal detectors and restricted entry to young men, allowing only those over 50 or women of any age to enter the Old City.
Checkpoints at the entrances to Jerusalem will also be bolstered, as well as police patrols in the alleyways of the Old City and on paths taken by Jewish and Muslim worshipers to the Temple Mount and Western Wall.
Police also announced that some roads around the Old City will be closed to vehicles, including Sultan Suleiman Street and various circumference roads in the Old City basin.
Halevi issued a special notice to officers posted at the metal detectors “emphasizing the importance of ensuring the dignity of the worshipers” as they pass through the gates.
Thousands of police officers are on high alert around the Old City on Friday morning in anticipation of violent riots.
Friday prayers on the Muslim holy day are the busiest time in the week at the Temple Mount, with tens of thousands expected to arrive at the compound. The Palestinian terror group Hamas called for mass protests on Friday against the increased security measures.
Muslim clerics have also been urging the faithful to skip prayers in neighborhood mosques on Friday and converge on the shrine, in an attempt to draw larger crowds. Worshipers have been asked this week to pray in the streets rather than submit to the new security procedures.
In its Friday morning statement, the police sought to reassure Muslim worshipers that their access to the holy site would be protected.
“The Israel Police is making every effort to ensure that worshipers from all faiths can visit their holy places in safety and freedom, recognizing the vital importance of the freedoms of worship and religion, as well as [worshipers’] personal safety,” the statement said.
“The Israel Police will not allow any extremist or inciting element to infringe on these rights. The Temple Mount, like all holy sites, is open and safe, in keeping with the status quo at the site.”
Over 3,000 police officers will be deployed “in and around the area of the Old City, Temple Mount and nearby neighborhoods,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said on Thursday. Police are also said to be planning to limit the total number of Muslim worshipers allowed to enter the Temple Mount area and possibly blocking entry to the capital from other areas of the country ahead of Friday prayers.
In addition to the heavily bolstered police presence, the army announced that five battalions would be made available to deal with violence in and around the capital.
The IDF also canceled all leave over the weekend, keeping all units at full strength in anticipation of violence.
Clashes erupted Thursday between Palestinians protesters and police in the Old City after thousands of Muslim worshipers gathered around the Temple Mount for evening prayers.
Palestinians threw rocks and glass bottles at the officers outside the Old City’s Lions Gate following evening prayers. Police responded with tear gas and riot dispersal methods, police said. Over 40 Palestinians and five Israeli officers were reported injured.
Last Friday, following the deadly attack, Israel initially closed the site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, as it searched for further weapons. The compound, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, was reopened Sunday with metal detectors instaled, a step Palestinians protested as a change to the longstanding status quo. Israel denied this and noted that those who enter the Western Wall plaza below have long been required to pass through metal detectors. The Temple Mount is the holiest place to Jews as the site of the biblical temples.
The increased security measures were taken after police said the three attackers who emerged armed from the compound, and shot at police on Friday, had stashed their weapons on the holy site.
On Thursday, police released video footage showing how the killers and an accomplice got the guns into the Temple Mount compound.
Agencies contributed to this report.