Hundreds of Palestinians Break Into Flashpoint Temple Mount Building

Police arrest 60 East Jerusalem residents on suspicion of inciting, rioting at Old City's Temple Mount

File photo: Israeli police officers confront Palestinians in front of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, February 18, 2019.
Mahmoud Illean/AP

Hundreds of Palestinians broke into Bab al-Rahma on Friday, a large structure at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City that has been at the center of reignited tensions in recent days.

The police arrested 60 East Jerusalem residents in their homes on Thursday night on suspicions of incitement and rioting ahead of the Friday prayers at the Temple Mount. The police said additional arrests are possible throughout the day.

Palestinians reported that the arrests were made in the Old City and the nearby neighborhoods of Silwan, Isawiya, A-Tur and Wadi Al-Joz.

>> Why Dome of the Rock was built on the Temple Mount

Palestinian sources told Haaretz that those arrested are mainly young men who regularly attend the prayer services in the Al-Aqsa Mosque. According to the sources, most of the detainees will be released in the next few hours without having to appear in court. 

Before the arrests, firebombs were thrown at a security vehicle used to protect Jewish residents of Silwan. The passengers evacuated the vehicle safely before it was set on fire and burned.

Palestinians have tried to start riots in recent days around Bab al-Rahma. Police closed off the structure, which is inside the Golden Gate, in 2003, saying that the Islamic heritage association that operated there had been associated with Hamas. 

The Waqf, the Islamic body that manages the Temple Mount compound, wants the area reopened, arguing that the heritage association has long since been disbanded, after its members were arrested. Police in Jerusalem oppose reopening the site.

Last week, the Jordanian government expanded the number of members in the Waqf in the hopes of thwarting Israeli efforts to change the delicate status quo at the holy site, according to sources at the religious trust.

For decades there have been 11 members of the Waqf, which oversees the day-to-day management of the compound and operates separately from the religious leadership of the mosques on the mount, located in the Old City of Jerusalem.

The trust is controlled by the Jordanian government, which has been careful over the years to staff it with people affiliated with the Hashemite monarchy. But last week the government in Amman announced that it would be expanding the Waqf council to 18, and will add for the first time representatives of the Palestinian Authority and local Muslim leaders.

The extraordinary move is perceived as part of Jordan’s efforts to close ranks in order to combat any change in the religious and political status of the Temple Mount – which is holy to both Muslims and Jews – especially with respect to allowing the latter to pray there.