Israel reopens Jerusalem holy site hit by fatal attack
By The Associated Press
JERUSALEM — Hundreds of Muslim worshippers visited a Jerusalem holy site Sunday after Israel reopened the compound following a rare closure in response to a deadly shooting last week that raised concerns about wider unrest.
For the first time in decades, Israel closed the site — known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount — on Friday after three Arab Israelis opened fire from the sacred site with automatic weapons, killing two police officers. The three were later shot dead inside the compound.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that following consultations with security officials, the site would be reopened Sunday afternoon with increased security that included metal detectors at the entrance gates and additional security cameras.
At midday, Israeli police opened two of the gates to the compound to allow worshippers to enter through the newly erected detectors. Police said some worshippers refused to go through them and knelt to pray outside instead. But despite concerns that the new mea- sures could slow movement and renew tensions, police said they appeared to be working fine and that 200 people had already passed through.
Israel did not coordinate the changes with Jordan, which serves as the custodian of the Muslim-administered site, according to a Jordanian government official.
Jordan’s position is that anything installed at the site must be approved by the Waqf, or Muslim administration, and cannot change the status quo, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the developing situation with reporters.
The Palestinian minister of Jerusalem, Adnan Husseini, called for the security arrangements to return to how they were before the attack, saying it “shouldn’t be an excuse for making changes.”
The attack triggered a rare phone conversation between Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who condemned the attack and called for the site to be reopened. Netanyahu sought to allay Muslim fears, saying that the status quo at the site “will be preserved.” But Gaza’s Hamas rulers called the act a “religious war” and urged Palestinians to attack again.
Early Sunday, Israeli police said security forces shot dead a Palestinian assailant behind a pair of recent shooting attacks. Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police tracked down the 34-year-old suspect in a joint operation with the military. The suspect opened fire with an automatic weapon, prompting the troops to return fire, killing him.
The Jerusalem shrine has been the scene of repeated con- frontations, including during the current wave of violence.
Israel has previously accused Palestinians of stockpiling rocks and other projectiles in one of the mosques in the holy compound. Israeli security forces have fired tear gas and stun grenades at the compound to disperse Palestinian stone throwers, who have at times targeted Jews praying at the adjacent Western Wall.
In September 2000, Ariel Sharon — Israel’s opposition leader at the time — made a provocative visit to the site, bringing Palestinian protests that quickly escalated into fighting between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli soldiers.
The incident was a factor behind an armed Palestinian uprising and an Israeli military crackdown. The violence claimed several thousand victims, most of them Palestinians, and only began to ebb in 2005.
Israeli border officers stood guard as Muslim men prayed outside the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on Sunday. Security was increased, including metal detectors at entrance gates and more security cameras, although some worshippers objected to the new steps.