Two US congressmen were briefly questioned by Israeli police officers during a visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem Thursday morning.
According to police, the Republican lawmakers were asked by officers guarding the site if they had removed anything from the volatile holy site.
“The issue was quickly clarified and the congressman continued their visit according to plan,” police said in an English-language statement. “They were not detained or arrested.”
In a video uploaded online, tour guide Avi Abelow said Scott Tipton of Colorado and David McKinley of West Virginia were stopped for taking a branch from an olive tree from the compound.
He said the Waqf, a Jordan-based organization that administers the Temple Mount, had alerted police to the congressmen’s infraction, which is governed by a delicate status quo.
Tipton and McKinley’s week-long visit to Israel was being hosted jointly hosted by Evangelical group Proclaiming Justice to the Nations and a pro-Israel group called Yes to a Strong Israel.
Jerusalem’s Temple Mount houses the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque. It is revered by Jews as the location of the biblical Jewish temples and is considered Islam’s third holiest site.
Under the present arrangement instituted by Israel after it captured Jerusalem’s Old City in the 1967 war, the site, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, remains under Jordan’s religious custodianship. Jews are allowed to visit the compound under the existing arrangements but are barred from religious worship or prayer.
Israel and Jordan made peace in 1994.
In July the holy site became the focus of a major crisis between Israeli authorities, Palestinians, and Jordan over security measures taken at the entrances to the compound.
Metal detectors and cameras had been installed following a deadly attack in which three Arab Israelis emerged from the site and shot dead two Israeli police officers using weapons that had been smuggled onto the Temple Mount. The upgraded security measures were all ultimately removed.