IDF Scrambles as Right-wing Activists Seize Structures Near Jordan Border

In planned provocation, about 25-30 activists enter sealed-off tract of land near border holy site, saying the incident is message to Jordan to keep out of Temple Mount affairs.

Israel Defense Forces scrambled to the otherwise calm border with Jordan on Monday, after several right-wing activists took control of structures located near the border with Israel's neighbor to the east.

The incident began when about 25-30 activists reportedly seized abandoned churches near the Qasr al-Yahud holy site, the believed site of Jesus' baptism, in a deliberate provocation meant to signal to the Jordanian authorities to keep out of matters concerning the Temple Mount.

Israel security forces - Lior Mizrahi - December 2011
Lior Mizrahi

The activists, who were escorted to the site by a television crew, reportedly cut their way through a fence that used to protect a surround a minefield surrounding the area, before it was cleared by Israeli security forces.

Israeli and Jordanian security forces arrived at the scene, with IDF soldiers attempting to remove the infiltrators.

Images released by Channel 10 television showed the activists dancing near the structures, and hanging the image of Revisionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky, who advocated the creation of a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan River.

On Sunday, Jerusalem's Mughrabi Bridge, which leads from the Western Wall Plaza to the Temple Mount, was closed due to fears it may collapse, following weeks of talks between Israel and Jordan on the need to replace the old bridge.

Last week, the Jerusalem municipality's engineer, Shlomo Eshkol, wrote a letter to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation and said he intends on ordering the "immediate closure of the structure" and "completely prohibit its use."

A new bridge is meant to replace the wooden structure built over the Mughrabi Ramp, which partially collapsed following a storm in 2004. The dismantling of the ramp in 2007 led to protests in the Muslim world and international criticism.

The dispute over the bridge has now become a key issue in Egypt's elections. The Muslim Brotherhood's spiritual leader, Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, called last week on Jordanian King Abdullah to dissuade Israel from replacing the ramp.

Jordan's King Abdullah II, meeting with President Shimon Peres, subsequently said that he expects Israel to refrain from unilaterally demolishing the Mughrabi Bridge.

"Israel must refrain from any step that will damage the character of Jerusalem or sites that are sacred to Islam or Christianity," Abdullah said, according to Israeli officials.