Huge police deployment in Jerusalem for synagogue dedication
Fears of renewed rioting as Palestinian leaders issue call to defend Al-Aqsa mosque.
Monday's dedication of the restored Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City could spark riots, police warned yesterday.
Pamphlets distributed in East Jerusalem claimed the opening of the synagogue was the first step toward the reconstruction of the Temple, while senior Fatah official Mohammed Dahlan and Hatem Abdel Kader, who holds the Jerusalem affairs portfolio in the Palestinian Authority, called upon Israeli Arabs to go to the Temple Mount and protect it from Israel.
Israeli security sources speculated yesterday that the PA is trying to leverage the unrest in East Jerusalem to promote its political agenda and tighten the connection between Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Security officials will decide today whether to extended the closure on the West Bank announced by Defense Minster Ehud Barak on Saturday. A move usually reserved in recent years for Jewish holidays, the closure was intended to block the spread and escalation of violent demonstrations.
On Sunday, thousands of Jewish revelers guarded by hundreds of policemen celebrated the entry of the first Torah scroll in the synagogue, and then held a festive evening service. Despite warnings by police, no violence took place near the Old City during the event.
The Hurva, considered the most important synagogue in the country for many years, was destroyed at the end of the War Independence and totally restored during the last five years. Renovated with the help of old photographs, plans and drawings, the synagogue was rebuilt to match the original model identically.
On Monday, the synagogue will be formally dedicated by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not attend the ceremony, but will deliver a prerecorded video greeting.
"The police will act forcefully to prevent both Muslim and Jewish extremists from disturbing public order and security in the Temple Mount and East Jerusalem," a statement from the police said.
Police and Border Police forces will continue their special deployment today, with 2,500 officers spread across the Old City, East Jerusalem and adjacent villages. Entry of Palestinians to the Mount will be limited for the fourth day in a row, with only Israeli Muslim men older than 50 and women allowed to enter the compound to pray. No visitors or tourists will be allowed.
The Jerusalem police department also withdrew the permission it gave to a group from the El Har Hamor yeshiva to take its monthly march around the Old City gates, for fear it would escalate tensions even further. MK Uri Ariel (National Union) criticized the police for the decision, saying their job was "to protect Israeli citizens, not to surrender to Arab rioters".
Police Commissioner David Cohen tried to calm nerves yesterday by appealing to all parties.
"The extremist, inciting statements being heard don't correlate to the facts on the ground," Cohen said. "I expect all parties involved to show responsibility, and to moderate any statements that could lead to an unnecessary escalation of violence in the city."
Israeli intelligence services do not believe, however, that the PA is interested in unleashing a full-flung intifada, or in ratcheting up violence in the occupied territories, since this would hamper efforts being made by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to build Palestinian institutions and improve the economy.
Yesterday, Abdel Kader met with representatives of Old City merchants and other local leaders. They decided to hold a general strike today between 11 A.M. and 1 P.M., a critical time of day, when students leave schools and mosques conclude their noontime religious services.