Metal detectors to stay at shrine: Netanyahu
Palestinians plan protests for Friday over security enhancements imposed at holy site
JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signalled Wednesday that he’s sticking to a decision to install metal detectors at a contested Jerusalem shrine, despite rising tensions and a Muslim call for mass protests in the city.
Netanyahu, who was in Hungary, spoke by phone with Israeli security chiefs about the escalation in Jerusalem and was to hold more consultations after his return to Israel on Thursday.
The mass protests are set for Friday, the highlight of the Muslim religious week, when tens of thousands of Muslims typically attend prayers in the walled compound in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Meanwhile, several thousand Palestinian Muslims prayed Wednesday evening in the streets near Lion’s Gate, one of the entrances to the shrine that was fitted with metal detectors. Such prayers, with the faithful kneeling in orderly lines on the pavement, have been the main form of protest this week, signalling their refusal to pass through the metal detectors.
Conflicts over the holy site, revered by Muslims and Jews, have repeatedly triggered Israeli-Palestinian confrontations. The site — known as the Temple Mount to Jews and Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, to Muslims — is at the heart of the conflict.
The latest escalation began last week when three Palestinians launched an attack from there, killing two Israeli police officers at a gate to the Muslim-administered compound.
In response, Israel began installing metal detectors, a move Muslim religious leaders and Palestinian politicians allege is part of an Israeli attempt to expand control at the site.
Israel has denied such allegations, saying metal detectors are routine security devices used at holy sites around the world.
Muslim clerics on Wednesday urged the faithful to forego prayers in neighbourhood mosques on Friday and converge on the shrine, in an attempt to draw larger crowds. Worshippers were asked to pray in the streets rather than submit to the new security procedures.
Netanyahu spoke to Israeli security chiefs by phone on Wednesday. “There is no change regarding the metal detectors,” he told reporters in Budapest.
Israeli media reported that security chiefs are at odds over the new devices. Israel’s Shin Bet security service, which closely monitors Palestinian society, reportedly opposes the metal detectors as counterproductive, while police support the new measures.
Netanyahu said Israel is in close contact with Jordan, the traditional Muslim custodian of the shrine. Netanyahu said Jordan wants to “end this as quietly as possible.”
Netanyahu rejected Muslim allegations that Israel is changing longstanding arrangements at the shrine. “We should look at the facts and the truth — the installation of metal detectors does not constitute any change in the status quo,” he said. “It is only meant to prevent a repeat of an attack with weapons.”
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said the key to restoring calm is to have Israel respect the “historic and legal status” at the shrine, the state news agency Petra reported.
Palestinians clash outside the entrance to the old city of Jerusalem as it is partially blocked by police on Wednesday.