Security Council ‘gravely concerned’ over Temple Mount violence

UN calls for calm, restraint at holy site as Israeli forces brace for more unrest after Friday prayers

Palestinians shout slogans in front of Israeli security forces who block a street leading to the Temple Mount, in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, on September 15, 2015. (AFP/Thomas Coex)
Palestinians shout slogans in front of Israeli security forces who block a street leading to the Temple Mount, in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, on September 15, 2015. (AFP/Thomas Coex)

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations Security Council is expressing “grave concern” after violence this week at Jerusalem’s holiest site and is calling for restraint and calm.

The council statement was issued late Thursday after three days of clashes at the hilltop compound known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, or Haram al-Sharif, and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

The clashes began Sunday morning, with security forces seizing pipe bombs at the site in an operation carried out hours before Jews prepared to celebrate the Jewish New Year. The Shin Bet security service alerted police to the cache, apparently an effort by Palestinians to stock up on bombs, flares and rocks ahead of an organized riot.

The police said its forces had entered the site after protesters began throwing stones and firecrackers at the Mughrabi Gate, the access point for non-Muslim visitors to the site. Police said that protesters had wedged open a door to the mosque, which officers had later closed, allowing visits to the Temple Mount to continue as scheduled.

The council statement says Muslims at the site “must be allowed to worship in peace, free from violence, threats and provocations.”

It also says that “visitors should be without fear of violence or intimidation.

“The members of the Security Council called for the exercise of restraint, refraining from provocative actions and rhetoric, and upholding unchanged the historic status quo” at the compound “in word and in practice,” added the statement.

Israel’s ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor castigated the Security Council statement for its omission of Palestinian violence at the flashpoint site.

“This statement, which only uses the Arabic name for the Temple Mount, affirms the right of Muslims to be present and to pray at the compound, but completely ignores the Palestinian violence, the deep connection of the Jewish people to the Temple Mount, and the right of all to visit the site,” he said. “Instead of calming tensions, the Council sides with those who are trying to set the region on fire. When the Palestinians set the Temple Mount ablaze, Mahmoud Abbas fuels the fire and the Security Council fans the flames, it is a recipe for a regional explosion.”

On Thursday, Saudi King Salman spoke by phone with US President Barack Obama on a series of regional issues including the recent violence in Jerusalem, urging him to stop “Israeli attacks” at the site and back UN action to halt the violence.

Earlier Thursday, Salman appealed to UN chief Ban Ki-moon and members of the Security Council for “urgent measures” after clashes at the Temple Mount and al-Aqsa Mosque, state media reported.

Salman “expressed strong condemnation of the dangerous Israeli escalation” at the holy site where Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli police for three straight days, SPA reported.

“He called for serious and speedy international efforts and for the intervention of the Security Council to take all urgent measures to stop these violations,” it said.

Salman added that the “attack on worshipers” violates the sanctity of religions “and contributes to feeding extremism and violence in the world.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also spoke with the UN chief Thursday, telling him that Israel was working to end the violence.

“Unlike the Palestinian side’s incitement, Israel is taking pains to preserve the status quo,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying in a statement from his office.

He added that Israel would respond aggressively to stone-throwing and firebomb attacks, which have caused the deaths of innocent Israelis.

The compound is the holiest site in Judaism, which venerates it as the Temple Mount, and the third-holiest site in Islam. Under long-standing regulations, Jews are allowed to visit but cannot pray there to avoid provoking tensions.

The UN, US and EU have urged restraint on both sides amid the latest clashes, while Jordan, which has custodianship rights over Muslim holy places in Jerusalem under its 1994 peace treaty with Israel, has warned that bilateral relations are at stake.

Meanwhile, Israel was gearing up for another day of violence Friday after the noon prayers.

Police said they would prohibit the entry of men under 40 to the compound after receiving intelligence reports indicating “young Arabs” planned to disrupt the peace during Muslim Friday prayers at the site, a spokesperson said.

Women of all ages will be allowed into the compound.

AFP contributed to this report.

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