Amid Tensions, Muslim Custodians of Temple Mount Call for Massive Friday Prayers Outside of Al-Aqsa

Tens of thousands of worshippers are expected to arrive to the Temple Mount compound after the unprecedented appeal; senior PA official says Abbas is not interested in escalating the situation

Israeli security forces stand guard in front of Muslim worshippers praying outside a main entrance to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, July 19, 2017.
Israeli security forces stand guard in front of Muslim worshippers praying outside a main entrance to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, July 19, 2017. AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP

As tensions mounted over the Temple Mount, the mufti of Jerusalem and the heads of the Waqf called on all imams in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas to not hold Friday prayers in their mosques but to come to Al-Aqsa for prayer instead. This unprecedented appeal is expected to bring tens of thousands of worshippers to the Temple Mount compound.

Israel placed metal detectors at the entrance to the Mount after a shooting that killed two policemen there last Friday, but the Waqf, the Muslim religious trust that manages Temple Mount, refused to unlock the gates in protest over the them.

The Friday prayers request by the Waqf follows calls by various Palestinian factions to march toward checkpoints throughout the West Bank. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has returned from an official visit to China and is expected to hold meetings Thursday with the heads of the security apparatuses. A senior PA official said that Abbas isn’t interested in any escalation.

Nevertheless, Fatah and the other factions cannot remain indifferent to the events in Jerusalem in general and those surrounding Al-Aqsa in particular. On Wednesday, dozens of youths marched toward the Qalandiyah checkpoint near Ramallah and toward Rachel’s Tomb north of Bethlehem. The Palestinian Red Crescent reported three people were hurt by live fire near Qalandiyah.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Al Safadi announced Wednesday that Jordan’s King Abdullah II has been personally involved in attempts to calm the situation. He added that the Jordanian position is clear: to preserve the status quo and restore the situation at Al-Aqsa to what it was before the shooting that killed two policemen last Friday. The three gunmen, all from the Arab Israeli town of Umm al-Fahm, were killed at the scene.

The Popular Committee in Umm al-Fahm and the shooters' families called on the police to release their bodies. In a statement, they wrote that holding the bodies was unjustified, and said that the move is increasing tensions in Umm al-Fahm and raising questions about the police’s characterization of the attack. The families asked to be able to conduct autopsies on their relatives’ bodies and then bury them.

Attorney Mohammad Bassam of Adalah, an organization fighting for the rights of Arabs in Israel, argued that “when the lives of civilians are at stake, the incident raises serious questions regarding police observance of the rules of engagement as detailed in National Staff Headquarters ordinance on the use of firearms.”