King Abdullah calls Netanyahu, demands reopening of Temple Mount: report
THOMAS COEX (AFP)
Jordan’s King Abdullah, in a rare telephone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday, condemned Friday’s attack at the Temple Mount and demanded the immediate reopening of the flashpoint holy site to Muslim worshippers, the Jordanian news outlet Petra reported.
The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that the phone call took place but would not provide further details.
Jerusalem's Temple Mount holy site will be gradually re-opened to Muslim worshippers from midday Sunday, following Friday's shooting attack in which two Israeli police officers were killed, Netanyahu confirmed Saturday.
A statement from the Prime Minister's office after the close of Shabbat on Saturday said that the premier had held a teleconference with security chiefs, who decided to go ahead with the re-opening and enact additional security measures at the entrance to the site, as an investigation continues into how three Arab-Israelis managed to smuggle improvised rifles, a handgun and knives onto the plaza.
The statement said that airport-style electronic security checks would be installed at the entrances to the Mount, as well as the installation of security cameras.
"This evening I held a discussion with the top security leadership and I instructed that metal detectors be placed at the entrance gates to the Temple Mount," Netanyahu said in a statement on Saturday. "We will also install security cameras on poles outside the Temple Mount but which give almost complete control over what goes on there. I decided that as of tomorrow, in the framework of our policy of maintaining the status-quo, we will gradually open the Temple Mount, but with increased security measures."
The decision to permit worshippers back onto the fractious compound comes amid condemnation from the Arab world over Israel's decision, reportedly not made since 1969.
The fatal shooting of two Israeli police officers at the holy compound prompted Israel to implement an exceedingly rare blanket closure of the site to visitors and worshippers and the cancellation of Friday prayers for the first time in decades.
In another dramatic development, Israeli security forces shuttered the gates to the entire Old City of Jerusalem, forbidding most entry and exit to and from the bustling tourist hotspot, in which thousands of Jerusalemites also live.
The Jordan-based Waqf, an Islamic trust that governs the Temple Mount compound, accused Israel of taking control over the ultra-sensitive holy site after a shooting attack against Israeli police. according to local media.
The Waqf also claimed that security forces ransacked many of the religious and administrative buildings on the Mount in searches, according to Hebrew daily Haaretz, as Hamas also escalated their rhetoric in the aftermath of the closure of the site, imposed by Israel as a response to Friday's shooting.
Israel said the measure was a necessary security procedure as it swept the area for other weapons and investigated whether the three Arab-Israeli gunmen received help from inside the compound.
It sparked a tit-for tat exchange with Jordan, the official custodians of the site, which referred to the shooting incident only as an "escalation" while demanding Israel "immediately open" the compound, known as Haram al-Sharif to Muslims and the site of the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
The Arab League, of which Jordan is a member, issued a similar statement on Friday warning that "banning Palestinians from praying" will only "inflame extremism and escalate tension" in the region. Making no mention of the attack, the statement lambasted Israel for handling the situation with "carelessness."
The White House, however, condemned the terror attack and said that it trusted Israel has no intention of altering the delicate balance on the holy compound.
Hamas: this is a religious war
Hamas, the Islamist terror group that rules the Gaza Strip, called Israel's closure of the compound a "crime" that is "part of an overall religious war waged against the Palestinian people and their land and holy sites," according to a statement released by one of the group's spokesmen Fawzi Barhoum.
"We call upon our people to escalate Alquds [Jerusalem] uprising and to combat with the Jewish settlers at all the flash points to defend our holy shrines," the statement continued, also calling on "Arab and Islamic nations to protest around the Israeli embassies in their countries to voice their anger against the Israeli crimes and show their support for Al Aqsa compound."
Netanyahu, who said that the site would be gradually re-opened beginning Sunday, also ordered stricter security measures at the site after questions arose as to how the gunmen managed to enter the site, typically ringed with tight security, carrying guns and knives.
Israel's Channel 2 news said Friday that it was possible the assailants, who were armed with two Carlo-style submachine guns and a pistol, may have received assistance from within the compound, hence the closure of the site.
Jordan has previously opposed measures to boost security at the incendiary site, which in the past have included proposals to install cameras there and place metal detectors and other security measures at the entrance of the compound to prevent weapons from being brought inside.
According to a peace treaty with Israel, Jordan maintains guardianship over Muslim and Christian holy sites in the Old City.
The Temple Mount is central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam.
The site has become the site of violent clashes in the past. Palestinians believe that Israel intends to change the status-quo at the site while many Israelis voice frustration over what they see as restrictions on Jewish prayer at the complex.
Israel has vowed repeatedly to maintain the status quo, which allows Muslim prayer there but forbids Jewish prayer and religious rituals.
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