Muslim Worshippers Refuse to Return to Temple Mount, Even Without Metal Detectors

Waqf opposes any technological measures, including security cameras; Abbas to meet Muslim officials as worshippers pray outside Al-Aqsa

Muslim worshippers remain outside the Temple Mount to pray on Tuesday, July 27, 2017.
Emil Salman

Despite Israel's decision to remove metal detectors from entrances to Jerusalem's Temple Mount, Muslim worshippers on Tuesday evening were not yet prepared to enter the site, Islam's third holiest.

A few dozen people prayed at the entrance to the Al-Aqsa compound from the direction of Lions Gate without entering, in keeping with the Waqf religious trust's instructions earlier in the day.

Clashes broke out later in the evening and, according to Palestinians, some 30 people were hurt outside the Lion's Gate, with one person sustaining serious injuries.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who met with Muslim officials during the day, supported the Waqf's position and expressed his unwavering support for Palestinians in Jerusalem.

Palestinian Muslim worshippers pray outside Jerusalem's Old City on July 25, 2017 as Muslim officials said worshippers should continue to boycott the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, even after Israel removed newly installed security measures that had triggered deadly violence.
AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP

Israel's security cabinet decided Monday night to remove the metal detectors that had led to a wave of protests amongst Palestinians and throughout the Arab world, but to leave the security cameras that had been installed. On Tuesday morning, the Waqf, trust responsible for the site's administration, announced that it would send a committee to the site in order to review the situation before submitting a report on the matter, but its position in the interim remained "to reject outright any changes, including technological measures."

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Some of the worshippers on Tuesday laid out prayer mats around the entrance to the Temple Mount without going inside. They told Haaretz that they had spent the day like this.

Outside the compound, where the number of worshippers varied from 20 to 150 during the entire morning and afternoon, vendors distributed water and bread. The area was heavily guarded, but only a few people crossed the police barrier, where the controversial metal detectors had been removed.

During prayers, no one seemed to have crossed the checkpoint into the Temple Mount. One of the worshippers at the site claimed that no one had prayed inside the Al-Aqsa compound that day.

Abbas' office announced that it had moved up the Palestinian leadership's meeting, which had been originally scheduled for Wednesday morning, to Tuesday evening. Abbas' spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said that the developments on the Temple Mount would be on the agenda.

The president, who Haaretz learned had met earlier in the day with Jerusalem Mufti Mohammed Hussein, backed the Waqf's position at the beginning of the leadership meeting. He commented that there would be no change in the Palestinians' position as long as the situation at the Al-Aqsa compound was not as it was before the 14th of the month, when the metal detectors and cameras were installed.

Speaking at the meeting's opening, Abbas, addressed Palestinians in Jerusalem and expressed support for their actions: "We are with you and support you and are proud of you and proud of everything you have done. You're taking care of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and protecting it, and you defend your land and your honor and your religion and holy places. This is the right response to all those who harm our holy places. Jerusalem is our capital, and it is our sovereignty, and what you have done is the right thing. You stood as one, and we support you and support everything you do."

Abbas announced that his Sunday decision to halt security coordination with Israel was not changed. "What we have decided regarding security coordination is still in effect, and what we have decided regarding the protection of the holy places is still in effect. We are studying the developments and assessing the situation to decide on how to continue down the road."

According to Palestinian activists in Jerusalem, the real decisions are taken on the ground, and its leadership would not be able to impose policies without widespread public support.

The Al-Azhar Institution in Cairo, the most senior Sunni institution in the Arab world, commented that the measures taken by Israel in the compound and around the Al-Aqsa Mosque are void according to Islamic Sharia and international law. Al-Azhar is considered an institution that inspires many Muslim clerics in the Arab world, and its message supports the Waqf in Jerusalem.

Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, commented that the decision to replace the metal detectors with smart cameras is disrespectful towards the Muslim worshippers and an insult to their intelligence. He added that these measures violate the privacy of worshippers and desecrate the sanctity of prayer.