Saudis say they urged Trump to sort out Temple Mount spat
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Saudis say they urged Trump to sort out Temple Mount spat

King Salman stressed to US president the importance of enabling unfettered Muslim prayer at the site, royal court announces

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

US President Donald Trump (C-L) and Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud (C-R) arrive for the Arabic Islamic American Summit at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center in Riyadh on May 21, 2017 (AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN)
US President Donald Trump (C-L) and Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud (C-R) arrive for the Arabic Islamic American Summit at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center in Riyadh on May 21, 2017 (AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN)

King Salman of Saudi Arabia contacted US President Donald Trump concerning the Temple Mount crisis in Jerusalem and urged the American leader to ensure that Muslims are able to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque without restrictions, the Saudi court said Thursday in a statement.

The announcement came after a tense standoff focused on the Temple Mount appeared to be have been resolved, when the Israel Police removed recently installed security measures that had angered Muslims and Palestinians.

Muslims had been refusing to enter the site since Israel installed security equipment, including metal detectors and cameras, two days after a July 14 attack in which three Arab Israelis used guns smuggled into the sacred compound to kill two Israeli policemen.

Deadly unrest erupted with the introduction of the new measures, with clashes breaking out around the compound and in the West Bank, leaving five Palestinians dead. A Palestinian also broke into a home in a settlement in the West Bank last week and stabbed four members of the Salomon family, killing three of them.

After Israeli police said early Thursday that all the new security measures had been removed, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issued a statement calling for prayer services to be reinstated in the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The call was echoed by Jerusalem’s Muslim religious authorities, which urged worshipers to pray on the Mount rather than at their local mosques.

Israeli security forces stand by as Palestinian Muslim worshippers pray outside Lions Gate, a main access point to the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem's Old City, July 24, 2017. (AFP/Ahmad GHARABLI)
Israeli security forces stand by as Palestinian Muslim worshippers pray outside Lions Gate, a main access point to the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, July 24, 2017. (AFP/Ahmad GHARABLI)

The Saudi royal court said that Salman had been in contact with Trump and asked him to ensure that Muslims would be able to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque not be closed, the Saudi-owned news site Al-Arabiya reported.

The king, who is also custodian of the mosques of Mecca and Medina in his kingdom, also asked Trump to see to the abolition of restrictions on access to the Al-Aqsa mosque, the statement said.

Salman’s efforts were successful and contributed to the restoration of stability as well as preserving the dignity and security of the worshipers, the court said.

The statement also stressed Saudi Arabia’s belief in the importance of achieving a comprehensive peace for the Palestinian cause as laid out in the Arab Peace Initiative, a plan of Saudi origin that is based on a two-state solution.

At the height of the crisis, Trump dispatched his special envoy Jason Greenblatt to Israel, where he held meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian officials in Jerusalem. Greenblatt also traveled to Jordan for a meeting with that country’s foreign minister.

The tense two-week standoff between Israel and Muslim worshipers at the holy site persisted despite the removal of metal detectors on Tuesday, sparking concerns of major unrest surrounding Friday prayers.

Palestinians celebrate outside the Lions Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem on July 27 2017 after more Israeli barriers were removed from the Temple Mount. (AFP / AHMAD GHARABLI)
Palestinians celebrate outside the Lions Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem on July 27 2017 after more Israeli barriers were removed from the Temple Mount. (AFP / AHMAD GHARABLI)

Muslims were refusing to enter the site and have been praying in the streets outside since Israel implemented the measures. Palestinians said they viewed the move as Israel asserting further control.

Israeli authorities said the metal detectors were needed because the July 14 attackers smuggled guns into the compound and emerged from it to attack the officers.

The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism and is revered as the site of the biblical temples. It is also the third-holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina, and is known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif. Under an arrangement in place since Israel captured the Old City in the Six Day War in 1967 and extended its sovereignty there, non-Muslims are allowed access to the site but are forbidden to pray there. Under that status quo, Israel is responsible for security at the site while the Jordanian trust — the Waqf — is in charge of administrative duties.

During a visit to the region in May that included Saudi Arabia and Israel, Trump asserted that peace between Israel and the Palestinians would be part of wider regional cooperation among moderate Sunni states in which Saudi Arabia would be a key element.

AFP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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