Saudi king said to intervene in reopening of Temple Mount
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Saudi king said to intervene in reopening of Temple Mount

Report says Netanyahu, via the US, assured Salman that status quo would remain and invited Saudis to visit the holy site

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Saudi King Salman, right, and Defense Minister and then Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wave as they leave the hall after talks with the British prime minister, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 5, 2017 (Saudi Press Agency via AP)
Saudi King Salman, right, and Defense Minister and then Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wave as they leave the hall after talks with the British prime minister, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 5, 2017 (Saudi Press Agency via AP)

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud personally intervened to end the closure of the Temple Mount following a terrorist attack at the site, according to an Arab media report on Tuesday.

Israel closed the Temple Mount compound for the first time in decades on Friday following a shooting attack by three Arab Israelis that killed two policemen at the site, only reopening it to Muslims on Sunday and to non-Muslims on Monday.

King Salman, according to a report in the Saudi-owned and London- based Arabic news site Elaph, sent a message to Jerusalem via the White House, urging Israel to reopen the site to Muslim worshipers as soon as possible.

In return, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly sent back reassurances that he had no intention of altering the 50-year-old status quo at the site, according to which non-Muslims may visit but not pray at the site. Misinformation regarding Israeli plans to make changes to the status quo surfaces frequently, roiling the Palestinian street and angering the Arab world.

The Elaph report said the information was provided by a “senior source,” but did not give the nationality of the source.

Netanyahu, according to the report, also invited Saudi officials to visit the holy compound themselves to see the situation, but has yet to receive a response.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud party meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, July 10, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud party meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, July 10, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Prime Minister’s Office said it “had nothing to offer” on the report.

Jews revere the site, where the two Jewish temples stood in biblical times, as the Temple Mount. It is the holiest site in Judaism and the nearby Western Wall, a retaining wall of one of the temples, is the holiest place where Jews can pray.

Muslims regard the same hilltop compound as the Noble Sanctuary. Home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock. It is Islam’s third-holiest site, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

Despite Israel reopening the site on Sunday to Muslim worshipers, many have been refusing to enter in protest against new security measures Israel put in place.

In the wake of the shooting on Friday, police installed metal detectors at the entrance to the site. Video showed the gunmen were armed as they exited the compound.

The placement of metal detectors has been widely condemned by the the Waqf, the Jordan-based trust that administers the site, the Palestinian leadership, and Fatah and the Hamas terror group that rules the Gaza Strip.

Waqf officials have called for Muslim worshipers not to enter the Temple Mount compound via the detectors and instead to pray in the streets.

The source for the Saudi report defended the installation of the metal detectors at the gates to the Temple Mount, saying it had become “commonplace” at holy sites to because of terrorism, which attacks “without discrimination.”

Muslim worshipers pray outside the Old City of Jerusalem's Lions Gate in protest of the placement of metal detectors at entrances to the Temple Mount on July 17, 2017. (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)
Muslim worshipers pray outside the Old City of Jerusalem’s Lions Gate in protest of the placement of metal detectors at entrances to the Temple Mount on July 17, 2017. (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)

The source added that the Jordanians were also involved in the contacts between the Saudis and the Israelis.

Netanyahu reportedly expressed anger to King Abdullah II of Jordan over a comment made by the speaker of the Jordanian parliament, Atef Tarawneh, who praised the attackers and said a prayer for them during a parliamentary session.

On Saturday night, Abdullah spoke to Netanyahu and condemned the attack.

According to the official Petra News Agency, the Jordanian king slammed those who “undermine security and stability” and pave the way for further violence, in an apparent reference to the Arab Israeli gunmen.

While Saudi Arabia-Israel ties have reportedly been increasing behind closed doors, the two countries do not have open diplomatic relations.

There have been media reports of clandestine talks between Israel and Arab powers, who have come to see the Jewish state as a possible ally against what they consider to be the greater threats of Iran and Islamist extremism. Saudi officials have had some open meetings with senior Israelis, and a Saudi general has visited Jerusalem and met with officials and politicians.

Israel has been eager for a regional peace process that would see Arab states partially thawing their relations with the Jewish state, as a step toward peace with the Palestinians.

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