Security Officials Concerned That East J'lem Violence Will Spread to West Bank, Israeli Arabs

Hamas, other Islamic groups suspected of trying to ignite wave of popular violence by playing on Palestinian fears that Israel is upsetting the Temple Mount status quo.

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A Palestinian carries a lit tyre during clashes between students from Birzeit University and Israeli soldiers near the West Bank village of Betunia, Nov. 6, 2014.
A Palestinian carries a lit tyre during clashes between students from Birzeit University and Israeli soldiers near the West Bank village of Betunia, Nov. 6, 2014. Credit: AFP

Diplomatic and security officials held a series of feverish consultations in recent days, following the deterioration of the security situation in Jerusalem and the tension surrounding the Temple Mount.

Officials in the police, the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service are concerned that the violence in Jerusalem could spill over to Israeli Arabs and the West Bank. They also worry that various Islamic groups, headed by Hamas, are trying to ignite a wave of widespread popular violence, by playing on Palestinian fears that Israel is trying to upset the status quo regarding prayer on the Temple Mount.

Serious rioting broke out again in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shoafat over the weekend.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu restated on Friday that Israel has no intention of changing the status quo. The heads of various security branches have recommended over the past few days lowering the political tone surrounding Temple Mount, and to rein in the parade of visits by ministers and right-wing MKs to the holy site.

Some of the senior officials believe the prime minister will have to consider whether to issue specific orders forbidding the entry of ministers and MKs to the Temple Mount. According to them, the key to calming the situation – besides beefing up the police presence in Jerusalem – is restraining Israeli provocations.

As reported in Haaretz on Friday, Netanyahu heard many warnings over the past year about a deterioration in Jerusalem’s security situation in the wake of right-wing activity involving Temple Mount and the Palestinian fear of a government plan to alter prayer arrangements.

However, Netanyahu only took serious action last week, after the second terror attack involving a station on the city’s light rail on Wednesday, in which a border policeman and an Israeli civilian were killed.

The recent warnings by security officials also prompted President Reuven Rivlin to call a number of ministers and MKs, asking them to avoid visiting the Temple Mount in the near future. Rivlin is worried especially about Israel’s relations with Jordan, which recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv last week for consultations and expressed concern about the negative effects of the Temple Mount tension.

Senior security officials asserted this past week that events on the Temple Mount reflect the most serious danger in years of deterioration in the West Bank and among Israeli Arabs.

The tension among Israeli Arabs worsened over the weekend after yesterday morning’s incident in Kafr Kana, in which policemen shot and killed a youth who was waving a knife at them.

According to security cameras that caught the incident on tape, the youth had turned his back and was moving away from the officers at the time he was shot.

The anger among Israeli Arabs about the behavior of the police in this incident, as in other incidents, dovetails with the tension around the Temple Mount.

There were major demonstrations in the West Bank on Friday over the Temple Mount unrest.

Tuesday will mark the 10th anniversary of the death of former PA President Yasser Arafat, and the Palestinian Authority and Fatah are planning many ceremonies across the West Bank. The question of Jerusalem will be at the heart of these ceremonies and demonstrations.

Israeli intelligence officials note Hamas’ growing involvement in events in Jerusalem. Hamas, they surmise, is trying to escalate confrontations with Israel in the West Bank and undermine the PA’s rule. The organization announced over the weekend the establishment of a new force of 2,500 militants that would “fight for the liberation of Al-Aqsa,” referring to the mosque on Temple Mount.

Palestinians report dozens of wounded during disturbances in East Jerusalem over the weekend. The most serious violence occurred in the Shoafat refugee camp beyond the separation barrier. Hundreds of youths on Friday confronted police for several hours, throwing stones and firecrackers. Protesters there held a symbolic funeral for Ibrahim al-Akri, a resident of the camp who committed last Wednesday’s terror attack in Jerusalem. Clashes renewed yesterday evening, when word spread of the shooting death by police of the Kafr Kana resident.

On Friday night, a 40-year-old masked man in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber was arrested on suspicion that he had led riots in the vicinity.

Investigators discovered that the man was Jamal Abu Gamal, a former security prisoner who was released as part of the 2011 Gilad Shalit deal. His remand was extended until tomorrow. Police officials say they plan to indict him.

At least five other people, among them two minors, were arrested over the weekend on suspicion of throwing stones and firebombs.

In addition, a Palestinian taxi driver from East Jerusalem was attacked Friday night by a number of Jewish youths in the Ramat Eshkol neighborhood. According to him, the youths cursed him and kicked in the door of his car, breaking his mirror before fleeing. He chased after them and called the police. The police took his details and released him. The police said they will continue their investigation today.

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