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Al-Aqsa Detectors Ignite Protests (21/07/2017)

The metal detectors installed by Israeli authorities on the Temple Mount following a terrorist attack have sparked a week of protests, some of them violent

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Thousands of Palestinians pray outside Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Temple Mount compound on October 2014. (surce: Sliman Khader/FLASH90)

New metal detectors installed at the entrance to the al-Aqsa mosque following a terrorist attack last Friday has resulted in increased tensions between Israeli authorities and Palestinians.

Last Friday three assailants and an accomplice entered the Temple Mount compound, known to Muslims as the Haram esh-Sharif, where they shot and killed Druse-Israeli police officers Hayil Satawi and Kamil Shnaan. The assailants, Palestinians from the Arab-Israeli town of Umm al-Fahm, were shot dead on site by other police officers.

As a result of the attack, Israeli authorities decided to install metal detectors around the Temple Mount similar to the ones used to screen visitors to the Western Wall.

However, these new detectors drew immediate ire from Palestinians and the Muslim world, as it was a show of Israeli control over the third holiest site in Sunni Islam. Following the 1967 Six-Day War, the Temple Mount compound has been under the authority of the government of Jordan via the Wakf Islamic trust.

Violent protests erupted around Jerusalem’s Old City on Wednesday after Fatah, the governing party of the Palestinian Authority, called on Muslims to demonstrate a “day of rage” against the metal detectors.

Dozens of Palestinians and five Israeli officers were reported injured.

Hamas, the governing party of the Gaza Strip, called for similar protests: “Let Friday be the turning point in the battle in the defence of Jerusalem and al-Aqsa”, said Hamas’ leader, Ismail Haniyeh.

Meanwhile prayers have been held outside of the compound so visitors would not pass through the detectors. The Wakf Islamic trust has instructed imams to not deliver prayers in their mosques on Friday, but to instead go to pray outside of the Temple Mount compound.

More than 3,000 police officers and five battalions of soldiers were called up on Thursday in preparation for Friday’s prayers as the IDF high command sees potential for clashes between protesters and Israeli authorities in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank.

Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli security forces in Bethlehem on July 19 (source: AFP/Musa Al Shaer)

Despite worries of Israeli presence at the site, a notoriously sensitive subject for Palestinians, a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said: “Israeli is committed to preserving the status quo at the Temple Mount and free access to the holy sites,” adding, “Israel is committed to the security of all worshippers and visitors to the Temple Mount.”

However, the sudden rise in tensions has raised concern from key outsider figures, including US President Donald Trump and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.

During a phone conversation with Israeli President Reuvin Rivlin, Erdogan said “there can be no impediment for Muslims” entering the compound, and, “Given the importance that Haram al-Sharif carries for the whole Islamic world, the metal detectors put in place by Israel should be removed in the shortest possible time and an end put to the tension.”

The Trump administration released a statement through White House press secretary Sean Spicer saying it was “very concerned” and calling for “the State of Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to make a good faith effort to reduce tensions and to find a solution that assures public safety and the security of the site and maintains the status quo.”

Thursday evening saw Israel’s security cabinet authorize the Israel Police to make the call whether to keep the metal detectors where they are.

On top of the issue of the metal detectors, Haaretz reported that new settlement construction by Israel’s Housing Ministry would make it harder for Palestinians to travel between Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority’s de facto capital, and Jerusalem.

Such a move goes against the requests of the United Nations, including the United States.


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