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Israel reopens Muslim holy sites … but the addition of metal detectors sparks new protests

Joshua Mitnick, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

TEL AVIV, Israel -- Israel reopened the Temple Mount plaza outside Al Aqsa Mosque on Sunday for the first time since a deadly shootout at the Jerusalem holy site two days earlier, but tensions persisted as Palestinians protested the new metal detectors placed at the entrance to the compound.

The Old City plaza, revered by Jews and Muslims, was shuttered to worshipers and tourists alike after three Israeli Arabs used improvised machine guns to kill two Israeli Druze policemen on Friday morning and then were killed by police. Israeli authorities said the use of live weapons in an attack on security forces at the holy site was "unprecedented."

The reopening of the esplanade should have defused emotions after Friday prayers were canceled for the first time in decades. But the new equipment fanned criticism and protests that Israel had unilaterally changed the rules regarding religious worship and tourist visits at the complex.

Israel said that the metal detectors -- set up outside the Old City's Lions Gate and the Majlis Gate -- were a part of tightened security measures in Jerusalem's Old City after the attack. In addition, police will install cameras outside the esplanade to monitor the compound.

Palestinian Authority and religious officials held an emergency meeting in Ramallah to discuss the security measures, and called on Arab and Muslim nations to intervene against the Israeli moves.

A Palestinian government statement called the security measures "null and void" and "a violation of the sanctity of the Al Aqsa Mosque."

 

Officials from the Muslim Waqf, the authority that runs the holy site, urged followers to remain outside the compound in protest rather than pass through the metal detectors.

Dozens of worshipers held midday prayers just feet away from the metal detectors, which were operated by Israeli border police in riot gear. In the evening, brief scuffles broke out between police and demonstrators gathered at the metal detectors.

"The Israelis have imposed severe security restrictions on the Muslim worshipers," said Omar Kiswani, the director of Al Aqsa Mosque. "We urge them to pray outside the gates of the mosque until the Israeli authority removes all the security measures and things will go back to normal."

Israeli authorities said that several hundred Muslim worshipers nonetheless entered the compound -- though it was significantly fewer than the usual number of visitors.

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