After Israel, Jordan Talks, Custodian Closes Temple Mount to Worshipers Over Coronavirus

Sources in the Waqf say Israel committed not to allow Jewish worshipers and tourist into the compound

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Palestinian volunteers in front of the Dome of the Rock at the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City, March 20, 2020.
Palestinian volunteers in front of the Dome of the Rock at the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City, March 20, 2020.Credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

The Waqf, the Muslim religious trust in charge of the Temple Mount on behalf of Jordan, announced Sunday it is closing the compound for Muslim worshippers amid the outbreak of the coronavirus.

According to sources in Israel and the Waqf, Israel's decision to close the Mughrabi gate, through which Jewish worshippers and tourists enter the Temple Mount, made it easier for the Waqf to order the closure of the other gates, through which Muslim worshippers access the Mount and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

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Haaretz Weekly Ep. 70Credit: Haaretz

Representatives of the Waqf, which includes Palestinian representatives, took part in the discussion alongside members of the Jordanian government.

Israel and Jordan discussed last week the closure of all the gates to the Temple Mount housing the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem but had not reached an agreement on the matter in light of the coronavirus crisis.

Earlier, Officials in the Waqf and Jordan conveyed to Israel that if it closes the Mughrabi Gate it will be much easier for the Waqf to order a complete closure.

On Sunday, a Jewish group entered the Temple Mount, causing it to close earlier than usual. In light of this, the Waqf reportedly agreed to reconsider its position and close down the site completely to worshippers later on Sunday.

Waqf officials have expressed concern over the past few days about continued worship at the Temple Mount in light of the rapid spread of the virus due to close proximity between worshippers. The mosques on the Temple Mount closed a week ago, but the outdoor plaza remained open and Waqf officials called on worshippers to keep their distance from one another during prayer.

The Waqf has also been disinfecting public spaces on the Mount. Despite the efforts, the Temple Mount was crowded with Muslim worshippers at dawn prayers on Friday, causing sporadic clashes between police and Palestinians who had come to pray.

The police dispersed the crowd using riot control methods, arrested a number of people and handed out fines of 5,000 shekels ($1,385) for breaking the regulation against public gatherings.

Even before the Friday prayer, there were contacts between Israel, Jordan and the Waqf in an attempt to prevent the Temple Mount from opening, but according to Waqf officials, the Israeli refusal to prevent Jews from visiting the site stopped the Waqf from closing the site to Muslims.

Earlier on Friday, Israel Police partially closed most of the gates of the Old City to minimize the number of worshippers for the Friday noon prayer at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Temple Mount, only allowing the area's residents to pass after crossing a checkpoint.

Three gates, the Gate of the Tribes, Council Gate and Chain Gate, remained open.

Many hundreds of worshippers attended the Friday morning prayer on the Temple Mount, most of whom made sure to stand apart from each other and remained outside. However, due to the rain, several dozen worshippers crowded in covered areas near the Al-Aqsa Mosque, despite the Health Ministry's instructions.

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