(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction has called for Muslims to “intensify the popular struggle” over the Temple Mount, despite the removal of metal detectors and security cameras from the holy site after a week of protests over the increased security measures.
Muslim worshipers have stayed away from the sacred Jerusalem compound since Israel installed metal detectors there last week, in the wake of a July 14 terror attack carried out with guns that had been smuggled onto the Mount. Instead, they have performed mass prayer protests outside the shrine, some of which devolved into clashes with Israeli security forces.
Following the shooting, Israel took the rare step of closing the Temple Mount to Muslim worshipers on a Friday — the holiest day of the week in Islam — in order to search for weapons, before reopening it two days later after installing metal detectors at the entrances to the compound. Previously detectors had only been placed at the Mughrabi Gate, the entrance for non-Muslim visitors.
The detectors were removed early Tuesday morning amid intense pressure from the Arab and Muslim world, although metal railings and scaffolding placed by the police in recent days are still in the area where the metal detectors once stood, and Muslims again stayed away in protest.
In its Wednesday decision, the Fatah Central Committee said that it would continue protests over the security measures and called for this week’s Friday prayers to again take place outside of the compound. Last Friday saw violent protests in several Jerusalem locations at the end of prayers.
Abbas said on Tuesday he will maintain a freeze on security coordination with Israel — an unprecedented step imposed in the wake of the placement of the metal detectors — “unless all measures go back to what they were before July 14.”
“All the new Israeli measures on the ground from that date to the present are supposed to disappear,” he said. “Then things will return to normal in Jerusalem and we will continue our work after that in relation to bilateral relations between us and them.”
After Tuesday evening prayers, violence once again broke out in East Jerusalem, with rocks thrown at police officers, who responded with tear gas and other “non-lethal crowd disposal methods,” police said in a statement.
The tensions surrounding the site were also cited by assailants in two recent terror attacks, including last week when a Palestinian stabbed to death three members of the Salomon family in the West Bank settlement of Halamish as they celebrated Shabbat.
The security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians, in place for years despite near-frozen diplomatic ties, is seen as critical for both Israel and Abbas’s Fatah faction to keep a lid on violence in the West Bank, particularly from the Hamas terror group.
In January 2016, head of the PA’s security forces Majed Faraj said his forces, working with Israeli security services, managed to foil hundreds of attacks against Israelis in less than a year.
Despite the removal of the metal detectors and security cameras Tuesday, Muslim leaders advised worshipers to continue to stay away from the Temple Mount.
The Jordanian-controlled Waqf Islamic trust, which administers the site, said a decision to continue the boycott was pending a review of new Israeli security arrangements there.
Overnight Tuesday, Israel’s security cabinet said it would replace the metal detectors with “advanced technologies,” referring reportedly to cameras that can detect hidden objects, but said the process could take up to six months.
A Waqf official told The Times of Israel that it was continuing the boycott of the Temple Mount until all security measures added after the attack are removed.
The official noted that “the new high tech cameras” would not be accepted in place of the metal detectors.
Waqf officials pointed to the increased police presence as an example of security measures they demanded be removed along with the metal detectors.
Raoul Wootliff and Dov Lieber contributed to this report.