Israeli Court Orders Contested Temple Mount Building Shut After Weeks of Tensions

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File photo: Israeli police and Palestinian visitors at Bab al-Rahma in Jerusalem's Old City, March 7, 2019.
File photo: Israeli police and Palestinian visitors at Bab al-Rahma in Jerusalem's Old City, March 7, 2019.Credit: Emil Salman

An Israeli court issued on Sunday a temporary closure order for a contested building on Jerusalem's Temple Mount, which in recent weeks became a flashpoint site of tension between Israeli security forces and Palestinians.

The Jerusalem Magistrate's Court called to immediately shutter the Bab al-Rahma building, approving an Israel Police's request to shut the site until legal proceedings concerning it are concluded.

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The move comes following weeks of disagreements, which Amman and Jerusalem tried to settle in talks that did not bear fruit. 

Haaretz was told that during discussions on Sunday the police representative said that if request for closure is accepted, the police will agree to opening the building occasionally, in coordination with the Islamic custodian of the Temple Mount, the Waqf council.

In recent years while the building was closed, the police did allow Palestinian high school students to take their final examinations there. The judge asked both sides to immediately update her if there are any developments in talks. 

The Jordanian Foreign Ministry condemned the Israeli decision, saying in a statement that East Jerusalem, including the Al-Aqsa compound, "is in territory occupied in 1967, which is not under Israeli jurisdiction."

Amman said only the Waqf council, the Islamic custodian of the Temple Mount, is in charge of administration of the compound, and called on Israel to reverse this "dangerous decision," which it said risks udermining status quo in Jerusalem.

The Waqf has been asked by the court to close off the building, but it refuses to accept decisions made by Israeli courts or police on issues pertaining to the Temple Mount, so as not to appear to show any recognition of Israeli sovereignty there. 

State prosecutors asked the court to rule on the case, after it turned out during hearings on extending the remand of Palestinians suspected of visiting the site against Israeli law, that no such order was ever issued to shut the building, reopened by the Waqf last month.

Bab al-Rahma, which has become a focal point of Israeli, Jordanian and Waqf controversy, had been shut for 16 years by the Israel Police, but that closure order expired in August. Since its reopening by Muslim worshipers, police have sought to close the building to keep out protesters.

It was ordered shut in 2003 for being used by a group with links to Hamas. In August, police asked the court to shut it permanently as part of its proclaimed war against terror. No final decision has yet been made, and therefore the court said there is no order to keep the building shut.

In response, Jerusalem District prosecutors submitted a new request to shut it down. "In accordance with updated security information submitted to the police chief, it is essential to shut the respondent's offices based on evidence that the offices are being used for Hamas activity and as a foothold by the terrorist organization on the Temple Mount," the request read.

The court, which postponed a discussion on the matter scheduled for last week due to reports of negotiations between Israel and Jordan on resolving the Temple Mount crisis, gave the Waqf 60 days to respond to the request for a permanent closure. 

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