Mus­lims pray out­side Jerusalem shrine in protest

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - MO­HAMMED DARAGHMEH AND IAN DEITCH In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Karin Laub of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

JERUSALEM — Thou­sands of Pales­tinian Mus­lims prayed in the streets near Jerusalem’s most con­tested holy site Tues­day, heed­ing a call by clergy to not en­ter the shrine even af­ter Is­rael re­moved the metal de­tec­tors it in­stalled there a week ear­lier.

Mus­lim lead­ers said they would call off the protests only af­ter they make sure Is­rael had re­stored the sit­u­a­tion to what it was be­fore the lat­est cri­sis.

Some Mus­lim of­fi­cials claimed that Is­rael had used the ab­sence of Mus­lim cler­ics from the walled com­pound in the past week of protests to in­stall new se­cu­rity cam­eras.

The con­tin­ued stand­off un­der­scored the deep dis­trust be­tween Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans when it comes to the shrine — the third-holi­est in Is­lam and the most sa­cred in Ju­daism.

The 37- acre es­planade, known to Mus­lims as the Noble Sanc­tu­ary and to Jews as the Tem­ple Mount, has been a light­ning rod for ri­val nar­ra­tives of the two sides. It has trig­gered ma­jor con­fronta­tions in the past.

Is­rael seemed ea­ger to put the cri­sis be­hind it and re­store calm af­ter a week of prayer protests, street clashes and sev­eral in­ci­dents of deadly vi­o­lence.

But Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu and his gov­ern­ment also faced a grow­ing back­lash for what crit­ics said was hasty de­ci­sion-mak­ing and em­bar­rass­ing pol­icy zigzags.

In a com­pro­mise, Is­rael’s se­cu­rity Cabi­net an­nounced that in place of the metal de­tec­tors, it would em­ploy non­in­tru­sive “ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies,” which re­port­edly in­clude smart cam­eras that can de­tect hid­den ob­jects. The new se­cu­rity sys­tem is to be set up in the next six months at a cost of $28 mil­lion.

Mean­while, Pales­tinian politi­cians and Mus­lim cler­ics de­manded that Is­rael re­store the sit­u­a­tion at the shrine in Jerusalem’s Old City to what it was be­fore July 14. On that day, three Arab gun­men opened fire from the shrine at Is­raeli po­lice guards, killing two peo­ple be­fore be­ing shot dead.

In re­sponse, Is­rael closed the shrine for two days for weapons searches and in­stalled the metal de­tec­tors. The de­ci­sion trig­gered Mus­lim protests over al­le­ga­tions that Is­rael was try­ing to ex­pand its con­trol at the site un­der the guise of se­cu­rity — a claim Is­rael has de­nied.

On Tues­day, hours af­ter Is­rael re­moved the metal de­tec­tors, Mus­lim lead­ers said a tech­ni­cal com­mit­tee would check the area in and around the com­pound care­fully to see if Is­rael had made any uni­lat­eral changes dur­ing the time the shrine stood empty.

Protests will con­tinue un­til the check is com­pleted, they said.

By Tues­day evening, thou­sands of wor­ship­pers prayed at the Old City’s Lion’s Gate, one of the main flash points in re­cent days. They knelt on prayer rugs ar­ranged in rows on the as­phalt as Is­raeli riot po­lice lined up nearby.

Af­ter the prayers, many in the crowd chanted, “Oh God, oh God, oh God,” as they raised their right in­dex fin­gers to the sky in a sign of re­li­gious fer­vor.

Khalil Abu Arafeh, a 67-year-old re­tiree, said he and the oth­ers would fol­low the lead of the Mus­lim clergy.

“We will not go. We will keep pray­ing here,” he said, al­leg­ing that Is­rael hadn’t re­moved all of the new se­cu­rity mea­sures.

Is­raeli po­lice spokesman Micky Rosen­feld said some cam­eras re­mained “as part of the se­cu­rity mea­sures to pre­vent ter­ror at­tacks” in and around the Old City.

The Is­raeli daily Haaretz said the se­cu­rity Cabi­net had de­cided to re­move the metal de­tec­tors but leave in place the newly in­stalled cam­eras.

Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas said se­cu­rity co­or­di­na­tion be­tween his forces and Is­raeli troops in the West Bank would re­main on hold un­til Is­rael has re­stored the sit­u­a­tion at the shrine to what it was be­fore July 14.

He had an­nounced last week that he was freez­ing all ties with Is­rael un­til the metal de­tec­tors were taken down.

Over the past two days, the cri­sis over the shrine has been closely linked to a deadly shoot­ing at the Is­raeli Em­bassy in Jor­dan.

The Sun­day shoot­ing, in which an Is­raeli guard killed two Jor­da­ni­ans af­ter one at­tacked him with a screw­driver, briefly led to a diplo­matic stand­off.

Jor­dan ini­tially said the guard could leave only af­ter an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but even­tu­ally let him go. Em­bassy staff mem­bers, in­clud­ing the guard, re­turned to Is­rael late Mon­day, af­ter a phone call be­tween Ne­tanyahu and Jor­dan’s King Ab­dul­lah II.

Jor­dan also serves as Mus­lim cus­to­dian of the Jerusalem shrine, and the se­quence of events — the re­turn of the em­bassy staff fol­lowed by the re­moval of the metal de­tec­tors — fu­eled ru­mors that a broader deal had been struck.

Jor­da­nian For­eign Min­is­ter Ay­man Safadi de­nied this, say­ing, “There’s no bar­gain here.” Safadi de­fended the gov­ern­ment’s han­dling of the em­bassy shoot­ing, say­ing it had fol­lowed rou­tine pro­ce­dures as in any crim­i­nal case.

One of the vic­tims, the 16-year-old who had at­tacked the Is­raeli with a screw­driver, was buried Tues­day in Am­man. More than 2,000 mourn­ers joined his fu­neral pro­ces­sion, and they chanted slo­gans in sup­port of the Jerusalem shrine and por­trayed him as a mar­tyr who had de­fended Mus­lim rights.

Sep­a­rately, Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan on Tues­day ac­cused Is­rael of us­ing the fight against ter­ror­ism as a pre­text to take over the holy sites in Jerusalem. Speak­ing to law­mak­ers of his party, Er­do­gan wel­comed Is­rael’s re­moval of the metal de­tec­tors but said Turkey would not ac­cept mea­sures that treat Mus­lims want­ing to pray as “ter­ror­ists.”

AP/ODED BALILTY

Pales­tini­ans pray Tues­day as Is­raeli bor­der po­lice of­fi­cers stand guard at the Lion’s Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City. Dozens of Mus­lims have prayed in the street out­side a ma­jor Jerusalem shrine, heed­ing a call by cler­ics not to en­ter the site un­til a dis­pute with Is­rael over se­cu­rity ar­range­ments is set­tled.

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