The Shin Bet security service has raised the level of alert in Jerusalem amid indications that extremist Jews are planning to carry out an attack on the mosques of the Temple Mount, and on the basis of new intelligence has beefed up police and security around the site in the heart of the Old City.
Meanwhile, the Islamic Movement's northern branch, which has made protection of the Al-Aqsa mosque the centerpiece of its activities, has called on Israeli Arab Muslims to flock to the Old City site to protect it from Jewish extremists.
Police on Wednesday announced plans to close the Temple Mount compound to Jews on Sunday, when a right-wing extremist group called Revava was planning to hold a mass rally there. Police fear the activists could clash with Muslim worshipers.
Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra and Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi have approved an operational plan meant to prevent Revava activists from holding the event. Police will prevent Jews from ascending to the mount Sunday, and will work to prevent any friction between Jews and Muslims in the Old City's alleys.
Jerusalem's police chief, Ilan Franco, announced several days ago that Revava activists would not be allowed to enter the Temple Mount compound. The statement came after reports in the Arab media expressed dismay at Israeli authorities' intentions to grant the right-wing activists permission to approach the compound, revered as holy by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.
Channel One reported Wednesday night that these security concerns have been made known to the political echelon. The radical rightists apparently aim to attack the mosques in the hope that they will disrupt the implementation of the disengagement plan.
The secret service created a ranking from 1-10 with 10 being the highest security risk. Three months ago, the Shin Bet was ranking the security threat at 7, meaning that "there are signs of planning for an attack," and that there are activists "talking about what to do and as soon as possible." Now, however, the ranking has moved to an 8 - and it is based on much more solid information.
Security sources confirmed that there is information about several groups of extremists, though it is not certain to what extent they are in contact with one another. Lately there has been some progress made in the inquiry, but a gag order has been slapped on its details.
A senior security source said recently that the mosques of the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as Haram el Sharif, have become a "hot topic" among radicals, on the assumption that an attack on the mosques would shock the Muslim world, drag Israel into a new war and prevent the disengagement. The source defined the chances of the threat against the mount being actualized as greater than the threat to the prime minister's life, where the security risk remains stable at 6, largely because of the difficulty of protecting the mount.
In response to the Revava plans, the Al-Aqsa Association of the Islamic Movement's northern branch has called on its followers several times in the past few days to remain at the mosque around the clock. The association said that in light of the threats to the mosque by Jewish extremists, it calls on Muslims in Israel to go to the Haram el Sharif and hold all five daily Muslim prayers there and stay there. And it called on East Jerusalem Muslims to go to Al-Aqsa instead of their neighborhood mosques. The association said Wednesday that it is sending buses full of believers daily to Jerusalem and that it intends to pick up the pace ahead of Sunday.
MK Abdel Malik Dehamshe, of the United Arab List, wrote to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon this week asking him to do whatever is necessary to protect the mosques. "I emphasize that in light of the tangible danger to the mosques in Jerusalem, unusual steps must be taken," the MK wrote.
The northern branch of the Islamic Movement has been very active over the past several years in dealing with the Al-Aqsa mosque. Israeli Arabs have much more freedom of movement than West Bankers and Gazans, which enables them to pray in large numbers on the mount every Friday and Saturday. In the announcement issued Wednesday, the association emphasized that people were being called upon to only hold prayers on the mount.
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