Amid tensions, scuffles break out at Temple Mount entrance

Dozens of Muslims block access to worshipers trying to go through metal detectors and security checks installed after terror attack

Israeli Border police stand guard by newly-installed security metal detectors at the entrance to the Temple Mount  in Jerusalem's Old City, on July 16, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLI)
Israeli Border police stand guard by newly-installed security metal detectors at the entrance to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, on July 16, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLI)

Amid heightened tension at the Temple Mount, sporadic scuffles broke out Sunday between security forces and Muslim protesters who were trying to prevent other Muslim worshipers from going onto the site.

Israel partially reopened the ultra-sensitive holy site, which had been closed since Friday’s terror attack that killed two policemen, having installed new security measures including metal detectors and cameras.

But some members of the Waqf — the Islamic trust that administers the site — objected and called on people not to go up.

Nevertheless, several hundred worshipers went through the metal detectors to pray at the site that houses the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

This apparently angered the protesters, who attempted to stop them until Israeli forces intervened.

Dozens of Muslim men physically blocked worshipers at Lions’ Gate from approaching the newly installed security measures.

Several small scuffles broke out. Footage screened on Channel 2 news showed police and soldiers forcibly detaining protesters, including some security personnel who appeared to throw protesters to the ground, and punching and kicking them as they were detaining them.

Palestinians said 10 people were injured in the confrontations and a mosque preacher detained, Israel Radio reported. Police said some of the protesters had begun throwing stones at the forces.

The metal detectors and bag searches were being carried out by a private security firm.

Despite pleas from Yoram Halevi, head of Jerusalem District Police, the leaders of the Islamic Waqf refused to cooperate, and told their followers not to comply with the new security arrangements.

But many worshipers did enter, including Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib, head of the Islamic Waqf. Al-Khatib entered from a different gate accompanied by several hundred worshipers, and made no complaint about the newly installed security measures. When asked why he accepted the new measures, al-Khatib told reporters that he did not want to leave the holy site empty.

Under the status quo, established after Israel captured the site in 1967, the site is managed by an Islamic foundation under the auspices of Jordan — the Waqf — and Israel controls access. Also, Jews are allowed to visit, but not pray, at the site, home of the biblical temples and thus the holiest place in Judaism. Israel has repeatedly denied seeking any change to arrangements.

“We reject the changes imposed by the Israeli government,” Sheikh Omar Kiswani, Al-Aqsa director, told reporters outside. “We will not enter through these metal detectors.”

On Sunday, only two gates were opened to Muslim worshipers. The plan is to open another two gates on Monday, one for Muslims and one for non-Muslims; the latter already has full security equipment installed.

Speaking to Channel 2 TV, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said that in the future Waqf officials might not be subject to security checks depending on the judgement of the police commanders.

However additional security checks at the site, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), were now non-negotiable. “Live fire from inside the Temple Mount crosses every red line,” he said.

Outside, hundreds chanted anti-Israel slogans and held their prayers in front of the metal detectors. Some women wailed and cried while telling people not to enter.

Adnan Husseini, the Palestinian Authority’s Jerusalem Affairs minister, said arrangements must to return to how they were before the deadly attack.

He said the Palestinians will not accept Israeli security additions at the entrance to the site. Though he acknowledged there was violence, he said it “shouldn’t be an excuse for making changes.”

Erdan denied that the security checks constituted a violation of the status quo. “We respect our partners in administering this site, but, ultimately, Israel Police is responsible for the security of the site.”

Erdan, who is responsible for the police, said in a tweet earlier that the Waqf officials’ protest was “opposition to the very existence of the metal detectors.”

The Temple Mount had been closed for more than 48 hours, since an attack on Friday when three Arab Israeli terrorists opened fire at a group of police officers, killing two of them, using guns that had apparently been stashed earlier on the Temple Mount.

The closure was the first time Israel had shuttered the compound on a Friday, Islam’s holy day, in nearly 50 years.

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