Rare clo­sure fol­lowed vi­o­lence that left three Arab at­tack­ers dead

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Aron Heller The As­so­ci­ated Press

Hun­dreds of Mus­lim wor­ship­pers visit a Jerusalem holy site Sun­day af­ter Is­rael re­opens the com­pound.

JERUSALEM» Hun­dreds of Mus­lim wor­ship­pers vis­ited a Jerusalem holy site Sun­day af­ter Is­rael re­opened the com­pound. The rare clo­sure was a 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 cit­i­zens of Is­rael opened fire from the sa­cred site with au­to­matic weapons, killing two po­lice of­fi­cers. The three were shot dead in­side the com­pound.

Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu said that af­ter con­sul­ta­tions with se­cu­rity of­fi­cials the site would be re­opened Sun­day af­ter­noon with in­creased se­cu­rity mea­sures, which 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 mea­sures could slow move­ment and spark re­newed tensions, po­lice said they ap­peared to be work­ing fine.

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 stance is that any­thing in­stalled at the site must be ap­proved by Mus­lim ad­min­is­tra­tion, and can­not change the sta­tus quo.

The Pales­tinian min­is­ter of Jerusalem, Ad­nan Hus­seini, called for the se­cu­rity ar­range­ments to re­turn to how they were be­fore the deadly 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 Mus­lim-ad­min­is­tered site “will be pre­served.” But Gaza’s Ha­mas rulers called the act a “re­li­gious war” and urged Pales­tini­ans to carry out more at­tacks.

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.

In the past two years, Pales­tini­ans have killed 45 Is­raelis, two vis­it­ing Amer­i­cans and a Bri­tish tourist in stab­bings, shoot­ings and car-ram­ming at­tacks. Dur­ing that pe­riod, Is­raeli forces have killed more than 255 Pales­tini­ans, most of them said by Is­rael to be at­tack­ers while oth­ers were killed in clashes with Is­raeli forces.

Is­rael blames the vi­o­lence on in­cite­ment by Pales­tinian po­lit­i­cal and re­li­gious lead­ers, com­pounded on so­cial me­dia sites that glo­rify vi­o­lence. Pales­tini­ans say the at­tacks stem from anger over decades of Is­raeli oc­cu­pa­tion of ter­ri­to­ries they claim for their fu­ture state.

The Jerusalem shrine has been the scene of re­peated con­fronta­tions, in­clud­ing dur­ing the current wave of vi­o­lence.

Is­rael 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, Is­rael’s then-op­po­si­tion leader, Ariel Sharon, made a provoca­tive visit to the site, spark­ing Pales­tinian protests that quickly es­ca­lated into armed clashes be­tween Pales­tinian gun­men and Is­raeli sol­diers.

The in­ci­dent was one of the trig­gers of an armed Pales­tinian up­ris­ing and an Is­raeli military crack­down. The vi­o­lence claimed sev­eral thou­sand vic­tims, most of them Pales­tini­ans, and be­gan to ebb only in 2005.

Ah­mad Gharabli, AFP

A Pales­tinian woman car­ries a Ko­ran and chants slo­gans Sun­day out­side the Lion’s Gate, a main en­trance to Al-Aqsa mosque com­pound, be­cause of new se­cu­rity mea­sures, in­clud­ing metal de­tec­tors and cam­eras.

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