The Waqf on Saturday protested that Israel had completely superseded its control over the Temple Mount, as Muslim anger mounted following Israel’s closure of the flash point holy site in the wake of the Friday terror attack there.
The Waqf — the Jordan-based Muslim organization that administers the Temple Mount — also said Israeli security forces had “caused harm” to all of its central offices.
“We reject all the measures that Israel is taking,” said Jerusalem’s chief mufti, Mohammad Hussein, “and we warn against any harm to Al-Aqsa.”
Waqf officials said they were barred from their offices in the compound Sunday, and condemned the closure of the Temple Mount to Muslim prayer for the first time since 1969.
“We have no control at the blessed Al-Aqsa,” said Abdel Azim Salhab, a senior Waqf official at a press conference. “Israel’s security forces are doing whatever they want there — defiling and destroying.”
Jerusalem’s Police chief Yoram Halevi said, however, that Israel’s security sweeps were being carried out “with escorts from the Waqf… So let nobody accuse of us of things that are not true.”
According to Hebrew media reports, police entered religious and administrative buildings on the Mount as they conducted widespread searches of the compound following the attack, looking for weapons and information on assistance the attackers may have received.
Following Friday’s attack, in which three Israeli-Arabs killed two Israeli Druze police officers near Lions Gate just outside the Temple Mount complex, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the rare step of sealing the site amid security sweeps. Israel said the killers emerged from the Temple Mount compound with automatic weapons, in what Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called a “defiling” of the holy site.
Israel closed the compound for the first time since 1969, saying it was carrying out security checks, including for further weaponry.
Netanyahu reportedly instructed the site be gradually reopened starting Sunday, and dismissed allegations that he was seeking to change the long-held status quo at the site.
But his assurances fell on deaf ears in the Muslim world where widespread condemnation of the closure continued to come in, often with little or no mention of the actual attack.
Jordan’s Minister of Waqf and Islamic Affairs Wael Arabiyat warned of “continued unprecedented harm to the sanctity of the Al-Aqsa Mosque…under the pretense of stopping violence.” Israel, he asserted, was to blame for the rise in violence.
Jordan on Friday called on Israel to “reopen Al-Aqsa mosque and the Haram al-Sharif (compound) immediately.” The Jordanian government said it “opposes any harm against Muslims in carrying out their religious worship in their holy places, freely and with no obstacles.” It warned against any attempt “to alter the legal and historical status quo in Jerusalem.”
On Saturday, there was restricted access through Damascus Gate, the main entrance used by Palestinians into Jerusalem’s Old City, with only residents with identification being allowed to pass.
Around 20 Palestinians waited at police barriers near Damascus Gate to see if they would be let through.
“This is not security. This is punishment,” said Bader Jweihan, a 53-year-old accountant for a bus company who was trying to get to work but was refused entrance there. “They want to punish the Arab Jerusalem citizens.”
Musa Abdelmenam Qussam, 73 and with poor eyesight, was being helped by one of his grandsons as he walked with a cane and sought to enter through the police barrier.
The owner of a book wholesale shop in the Old City, he said he usually prays at Al-Aqsa every day. “This mosque is not only for Muslims. Tourists come,” he said after being denied entrance. “This city is for all the world. It must be open.”
Jaffa Gate, heavily used by tourists and near the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, was open but with a heavy police presence.
A group of tourists from Poland said they were concerned when they heard about the shooting on Friday but wanted to continue their visit. They were on their way to do some shopping in the Old City and visit the nearby Garden of Gethsemane, where Christians believe Jesus prayed the night before his crucifixion.
“It stressed me a little,” said Ewa, who did not want to give her last name or age.
At Lions Gate near the site of the attack, police guarded the entrance and restricted access, checking IDs.
The attack and aftermath was one of the most serious incidents in Jerusalem in recent years.
The Arab League condemned Israel for the closure, with Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit saying in a statement on Friday that Israel’s “banning Palestinians from praying” will only “inflame extremism and escalate tension” in the region. He stressed “the high sensitivity of issues related to religious places,” and chastised Israel for handling the situation with “carelessness.”
The statement made no mention of the terror attack that caused the temporary closure.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, an umbrella group of 57 nations, also lambasted the closure, calling it “a serious crime and a dangerous precedent.”
Israel rejected the Jordanian demand to immediately reopen the site and criticized Amman, with one unnamed official telling Israeli TV that “instead of condemning the attack, Jordan chose to attack Israel, which is protecting worshipers and maintaining freedom of worship in the place.
“Israel will not tolerate harm to the holy places and is maintaining the status quo there. It should be expected that all sides involved, including Jordan, exercise restraint and avoid fanning the flames,” the official said.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas spoke with Netanyahu following the attack. According to the PA’s official news agency Wafa, Abbas “expressed his strong rejection and condemnation of the incident,” while calling for Israel to reopen the site.
According to a report Friday, among the suspects detained in the attack was at least one Waqf official who police suspect may have aided the three Arab-Israeli assailants, who all came from the northern Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm.
The terrorists attacked the officers in an alleyway, coming from the direction of the Temple Mount and fled back there as other officers gave chase. The police then opened fire, shooting the terrorists dead inside the complex.
In footage released by police Friday, the terrorists can be seen running armed from the Temple Mount into an alleyway where police officers Haiel Sitawe, 30 and Kamil Shnaan, 22, were stationed, and shooting them. They were both critically injured and later died of their injuries.
Reports throughout Friday said the two police officers were killed just outside the Temple Mount compound. However, Channel 2 news reported late Friday that the second policeman may have been killed by the assailants on the mount itself, after they had fled back.
It was not immediately known how the terrorists brought the weapons used in the attack — two Carlo-style submachine guns, a pistol and a knife — into the holy site. Muslim visitors to the Temple Mount complex go through a less rigorous security check than non-Muslim visitors who enter through the Mughrabi Bridge.
The gunmen were named by the Shin Bet security agency as Muhammad Ahmed Muhammad Jabarin, 29, Muhammad Hamad Abdel Latif Jabarin, 19 and Muhammad Ahmed Mafdal Jabarin, 19 — all from the northern Israeli Arab town of Umm al-Fahm.