Police Request to Limit Temple Mount Entry for Palestinians Ahead of Ramadan

Extreme-right lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir announced he will visit Temple Mount amid rising tensions

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Preparations for Ramadan on the Temple Mount over the weekend.
Preparations for Ramadan on the Temple Mount over the weekend.Credit: Mahmoud Illean/AP

The Israel Police are requesting to limit the amount of Palestinian worshipers who can enter the Temple Mount complex during the Ramadan holiday, in light of the recent string of terror attacks against Israelis.

Police have asked to restrict entry during the first week of the Muslim holy month to all West Bank residents aged 60 and over to the site, which is home to the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City.  

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This is counter to the Israeli military's position, which is favored by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, to allow entry to men aged 45 and over.

The Security Cabinet is also set to discuss the matter later on Wednesday evening. 

Extreme-right Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir announced that he will enter the Temple Mount complex on Thursday morning, and police have notified Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev that they intend to allow him to do so, despite fears of further fueling tensions in the area.

MK Itamar Ben-Gvir on Tuesday.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

A final decision on the matter is expected to be made at a situational assessment to be held on Wednesday by the Jerusalem District Police chief and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai.

Ahead of Ramadan, police have identified 110 Palestinian activists in Jerusalem who they suspect of incitement. About half of them have already been questioned by police, some have been banned from the city and others arrested.

The Jerusalem District Police had recently capped the number of worshipers at the city's holy sites, as one of the conclusions drawn from the deadly stampede at Mount Meron last year. They limited attendance at the Western Wall to 15,000 worshipers and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to 1,000. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the Holy Fire ceremony at the church was attended by thousands of people; Christian officials in Jerusalem believe that capping the number of worshipers will negatively affect the ceremony.

The Temple Mount and the al-Aqsa mosque complex have no such limitations. Police explained that the mountain's size and multiple entrances and exits makes capping worshipers unnecessary. Police will instead guide Muslim worshipers using signage and ushers in order to reduce crowding at the gates.

Last year, police erected crowd-control barriers opposite Jerusalem's Damascus Gate, which roiled existing tensions and contributed to large-scale clashes at the site until the police ultimately removed the barriers. Those clashes were followed by the firing of rockets from Gaza at Jerusalem, which precipitated May's military conflict with Hamas and violent rioting in Israeli cities with mixed Jewish and Arab populations.

Last month, police decided not to use such crowd-control measures during Ramadan, which is expected to begin on April 2 and end May 2, and coincide with the Jewish Passover holiday. Police have been preparing for clashes in Jerusalem as well as in the West Bank and Gaza Strip this year due to the overlapping holidays and confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli forces.

Eleven people have been killed in Palestinian terror attacks over the past week. The most lethal of the three occurred on Tuesday night in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak; a Palestinian gunman killed four civilians and a police officer before being shot.

Two days earlier, two Arab citizens of Israel who sympathize with the Islamic State opened fire at a crowd at a bus station in Hadera, killing two 19-year-old members of the Border Police.  Four people were killed in a stabbing and car ramming rampage in the southern city of Be'er Sheva last Tuesday by a Bedouin Israeli citizen who also identified with the Islamic State.  

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