Israel removes metal detectors from holy site
Jerusalem - Israel removed metal detectors from a highly sensitive Jerusalem holy site on Tuesday after their installation triggered deadly violence, but Muslim officials said worshippers should continue a boycott for now.
The Israeli move came in the face of intensive international diplomacy seeking to stop the dispute over the Haram al Sharif mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, sparking wider Palestinian unrest.
The government said it would introduce subtler measures instead to secure the compound, which houses the revered Al Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock, following a deadly attack on Israeli police nearby.
A work crew removed the metal detectors from one entrance to the compound in the early hours, and cameras installed on overhead bridges in recent days were also gone, an AFP correspondent reported.
Dozens of Israeli security personnel stood quietly outside the entrance, where Muslims have prayed for days in protest at the metal detectors.
A small group of women prayed outside. One of them, Widad Ali Nasser, said they would ‘not enter the Al Aqsa Mosque until the situation returns to how it was before... without surveillance cameras, without searches, without metal detectors’. The women later held a small demonstration, chanting they would sacrifice ‘soul and blood for Al Aqsa’.
Israel’s security Cabinet took the decision to remove the detectors early on Tuesday.
They decided ‘to change the inspection with metal detectors to a security inspection based on advanced technologies and other means’, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said.
Details of the advanced technologies the Cabinet envisaged were not immediately clear.
A statement from the Waqf, the Islamic endowments organisation which administers the compound, said there should be ‘no entry into Al Aqsa Mosque until after an assessment by a Waqf technical committee and the return of the situation to how it was before the 14th of this month’.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged all Muslims to visit Jerusalem to protect the holy places. “From here I make a call to all Muslims. Anyone who has the opportunity should visit Jerusalem, Al Aqsa Mosque,” Erdogan said in Ankara. “Come, let’s all protect Jerusalem.”
Israel installed metal detectors at entrances to the compound after an attack nearby that killed two policemen on July 14.
Palestinians viewed the new security measures as Israel asserting further control over the site. They refused to enter the compound in protest and prayed in the streets outside instead.
Israeli authorities said the metal detectors were needed because the July 14 attackers smuggled guns into the compound and emerged from it to shoot the officers.
The decision to remove the metal detectors followed talks between Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who demanded they be taken away.
Jordan is the official custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem and is one of only two Arab governments to have signed a peace treaty with Israel.
It also came after one of US President Donald Trump’s top aides, Jason Greenblatt, arrived in Israel for talks on the crisis and with UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov warning of the risks of escalation.
Friday’s main weekly Muslim prayers - which typically draw thousands to Al Aqsa - had brought the dispute to a boil.
Clashes erupted between Israeli security forces and Palestinians around the Old City, elsewhere in annexed East Jerusalem and in the occupied West Bank, leaving three Palestinians dead. They continued on Saturday, leaving two more Palestinians dead.
Friday evening also saw a Palestinian break into a home in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank during a Sabbath dinner and stab four Israelis, killing three of them. The Israeli army said the 19 year old Palestinian had spoken in a Facebook post of the holy site and of dying as a martyr.
Israeli security forces take down security barriers at the Lions’ Gate, the main entrance to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, on Monday night