The high-level security cabinet overnight Thursday-Friday authorized the Israel Police to decide whether to keep the metal detectors around the Temple Mount compound on Friday, ahead of anticipated violence by Muslim worshipers over the new security measures.
“Israel is committed to preserving the status quo at the Temple Mount and free access to the holy sites,” a late-night statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said, following hours of meetings between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ministers, and security chiefs in Tel Aviv. “Israel is committed to the security of all worshipers and visitors to the Temple Mount.”
“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,” the statement said, without elaborating.
Israel’s security authorities were set to flood the streets of Jerusalem on Friday with policemen and soldiers in an attempt to quell expected violence at protests over the stepped up security measures in the Old City of Jerusalem.
The contentious site has reemerged as a flashpoint in recent days, with Muslim protesters holding at-times violent demonstrations outside of the Old City in protest of Israel’s placement of metal detectors at the gates to the Temple Mount, following a terror attack last week in which three Arab Israelis shot dead two police officers guarding one of the entrances to 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 number of Muslim worshipers allowed to enter the Temple Mount area and 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 an 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 Jerusalem’s Old City after thousands of Muslim worshipers gathered around the contested Temple Mount holy site for evening prayers.
Palestinians threw rocks and glass bottles at the officers outside the Old City’s Lion 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.
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, which Israel said were necessary in light of last Friday’s terror attack there.
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 installed, a step Palestinians protested as a change to the longstanding status quo. Israel denied this, and noted that those 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, killing two Druze officers on guard outside, 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.
Jerusalem’s police chief Yoram Halevi expressed confidence Thursday that his forces could deal with any protests Friday, and was not urging the removal of the metal detectors, according to a Channel 2 TV report.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.