Government and security officials have been holding on Wednesday intense consultations over the Temple Mount crisis. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s entourage held phone conversations with top security officials in an attempt to find a way out of the developing crisis with the Palestinians over the installation of metal detectors at the entries to Jerusalem's Temple Mount.
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Netanyahu will hold further consultations Wednesday evening, and again on Thursday, after his return from Hungary.
In the talks thus far, officials from the Shin Bet, army and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories expressed reservations about insisting on the continued use of metal detectors at the entrances to the Temple Mount. The officials urged that a solution be found that would allow Israel to extricate itself “with dignity” from this conflict, without having it escalate into broader unrest in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The Temple Mount was reopened to Jewish visitors on Wednesday on the orders of Jerusalem police chief Yoram Halevy, after being closed down following a deadly attack last Friday. The placement of metal detectors at the site after the attack led to violent confrontations between Muslim worshippers and police in the following days.
One proposal under consideration is for a senior Western or Arab personage to approach Israel with a plan for resolving the crisis. The army is readying for the possibility that reinforcements will be needed this weekend in case of potential disturbances.
Security officials also discussed the need to prepare for possible rocket fire from Gaza and for possible mass protests organized by Hamas close to the border fence.
Netanyahu: Metal detectors don't alter status quo
Meanwhile, the prime minister said in a briefing to reporters in Budapest that Israel has not changed its position concerning metal detectors at the entries to the holy site.
“There is no change regarding the metal detectors,” Netanyahu said. “No other decision has been made about the Temple Mount. This evening I will hold another consultation with security officials. There are different views and I am listening to them."
He also said Israel has turned to Jordan and to Arab countries and asked them for their help to restore the peace to the Temple Mount.
Netanyahu asserted that the metal detector policy for Temple Mount was nothing new. "We told the Jordanians that until 2000, metal detectors were being used partially at the Temple Mount," he noted. "We’ve told this to the whole Arab world."
Israel, Netanyahu said, is in continuous contact with Jordan. "They would like to end this as quietly as possible. We expect everyone to help restore calm," he said. "We should look at the facts and the truth – the installation of metal detectors does not constitute any change in the status quo. It is only meant to prevent a repeat of an attack with weapons.”
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al Safadi said on Wednesday that the key to calming the situation in Jerusalem and at the Al-Aqsa Mosque is in Israel's hands. He said that King Abdullah, who is personally in contact with Israel, is demanding to preserve the status quo and for Israel to rescind its decisions of the past few days regarding security at the compound.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is holding talks with Arab and world leaders in an attempt to prevent an escalation in Jerusalem, his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said Wednesday. Abbas will hold an emergency meeting Thursday with the heads of Palestinian security forces ahead of prayers on Friday.
Renewed clashes erupted between protesters and Israeli security forces on Wednesday, which Fatah declared a Day of Rage, near the Lion's Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, where police used stun grenades against the demonstrators. However, the day passed with relatively few such incidents. Still, the IDF is worried about possible escalation ahead of the Friday prayers, as well as the Jerusalem mufti’s call to worshippers in the city’s mosques to exercise their right to pray at Al Aqsa on Friday.
Tensions in the West Bank were exacerbated by a road accident that occurred on Wednesday afternoon.
Jewish visitors were expelled on Wednesday from the compound for bringing sacred books to the Mount and trying to pray there. After one of the individuals was cautioned, another took out a holy book, and the group was expelled. The site was then temporarily closed to visitors.