Leader: Holy-site steps fall short

Mus­lim of­fi­cial says more work is needed to re­store calm

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - ARON HELLER AND MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH

JERUSALEM — A se­nior Mus­lim of­fi­cial in Jerusalem said Wed­nes­day that wor­ship­pers would not re­turn to a con­tested shrine un­til Is­rael re­moves the rail­ings and cam­eras it in­stalled af­ter a deadly at­tack there, pro­long­ing a cri­sis that Is­rael hoped it had re­solved by mak­ing con­ces­sions at the site.

Ikrema Sabri, head of the Supreme Is­lamic Com­mit­tee, said that even af­ter Is­rael re­moved metal de­tec­tors from the site, more steps are re­quired to re­store calm. He said mass prayer protests will con­tinue un­til the gates of the com­pound are opened, metal rail­ings and an iron bridge re­moved and newly in­stalled cam­eras taken down.

A lawyer work­ing on be­half of the Mus­lim ad­min­is­tra­tion of the holy site will be in touch with Is­raeli po­lice about it, he added.

“We will not en­ter the mosque un­til these things are im­ple­mented,” Sabri said. “Now we are await­ing the re­sponse of the po­lice.”

The de­mands set off the prospect of a re­newed show­down ahead of Fri­day prayers at the site, when a large num­ber of wor­ship­pers ar­rive for the cen­ter­piece of the Mus­lim prayer week.

Is­rael closed the site for two days for weapons searches and in­stalled the se­cu­rity mea­sures ear­lier this month af­ter Arab gun­men shot and killed two po­lice of­fi­cers from within the site. Is­rael said the mea­sures were nec­es­sary to pre­vent more at­tacks, but the de­ci­sion quickly trig­gered Mus­lim protests over ru­mors that Is­rael was try­ing to ex­pand its con­trol at the site un­der the guise of se­cu­rity — a claim Is­rael strongly de­nied.

The is­sue sparked some of the worst street clashes in years and threat­ened to draw Is­rael into con­flict with other Arab and Mus­lim na­tions.

Un­der pres­sure, Is­rael re­moved the metal de­tec­tors and said it planned to in­stall so­phis­ti­cated se­cu­rity cam­eras in­stead.

But Pales­tinian politi­cians and Mus­lim cler­ics say that isn’t enough and are de­mand­ing that Is­rael re­store the sit­u­a­tion at the shrine in Jerusalem’s Old City to what it was be­fore the July 14 at­tack.

Low-level clashes have con­tin­ued in and around Jerusalem. The Red Cres­cent said 13 peo­ple were treated Tues­day night af­ter be­ing hit by rub­ber bul­lets dur­ing protests.

The con­tin­ued stand­off high­lighted 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 com­pound, known to Mus­lims as the No­ble Sanc­tu­ary and to Jews as the Tem­ple Mount, has been a light­ning rod for the two sides and has trig­gered ma­jor con­fronta­tions in the past.

Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s chal­lenge is to tamp out a wave of un­rest that has trig­gered in­ter­na­tional pres­sure while not ap­pear­ing to his hard-line base as ca­pit­u­lat­ing.

His gov­ern­ment has faced a grow­ing back­lash at home for what crit­ics said was hasty de­ci­sion-mak­ing and em­bar­rass­ing pol­icy re­ver­sals. Even Is­rael Hayom, a free daily owned by Ne­tanyahu’s bil­lion­aire backer Shel­don Adel­son, de­nounced Is­rael’s re­sponse to the cri­sis as “fee­ble and fright­ened.”

In a compromise, af­ter Ne­tanyahu spoke to Jor­dan’s King Ab­dul­lah II and oth­ers, Is­rael’s se­cu­rity Cab­i­net an­nounced Mon­day that in place of the metal de­tec­tors, it would em­ploy non­in­tru­sive “ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies” — smart cam­eras that can de­tect hid­den ob­jects. The new se­cu­rity sys­tem is ex­pected to be set up in the next six months at a cost of $28 mil­lion.

Ne­tanyahu ap­peared to be dou­bling back again Wed­nes­day when he in­structed po­lice forces to con­duct thor­ough in­spec­tions at the site.

Is­raeli po­lice, mean­while, ac­knowl­edged Wed­nes­day that their forces have been pre­vent­ing jour­nal­ists from en­ter­ing parts of Jerusalem’s Old City as part of ef­forts to lower ten­sions.

Re­porters have com­plained this week that they were be­ing blocked from cov­er­ing the un­rest around the shrine while tourists have been able to freely move about the city and film with their mo­bile phones.

Po­lice spokesman Micky Rosen­feld said Wed­nes­day that “jour­nal­ists are be­ing pre­vented from com­ing in those spe­cific ar­eas where there have been dis­tur­bances and ri­ots.” He said it was a de­ci­sion made by the Jerusalem po­lice district.

The For­eign Press As­so­ci­a­tion de­rided the move, call­ing it “a kind of in­no­va­tive cen­sor­ship that is sur­pris­ing in a coun­try that prides it­self on press free­dom.”

Is­rael also has found it­self in a new dis­pute with Turkey, whose leader, Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, has been among its fiercest crit­ics. On Tues­day, Er­do­gan ac­cused Is­rael of us­ing se­cu­rity mea­sures as a pre­text to take over holy sites in Jerusalem.

Is­rael’s For­eign Min­istry re­sponded by call­ing the com­ments “delu­sional, base­less and dis­torted.”

“The days of the Ot­toman Em­pire are over,” it said. “He who lives in a palace of glass would be bet­ter off not throw­ing stones.”

Ne­tanyahu’s of­fice also chimed in, say­ing it won­dered what Er­do­gan would have to say to Kurds and res­i­dents of north Cyprus.

“Er­do­gan is the last one who can preach to Is­rael,” it said in a state­ment.

On Wed­nes­day, Turkey’s For­eign Min­istry called the Is­raeli state­ments “ar­ro­gant.”

AP/ADEL HANA

Ha­mas se­cu­rity of­fi­cers carry a model of the Al-Aqsa mosque dur­ing a march Wed­nes­day in Gaza against Is­raeli se­cu­rity mea­sures at the con­tested Jerusalem shrine.

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