Thousands of Muslim Worshippers Join Temple Mount Vigil in Jerusalem

Though Israel has removed the metal detectors at the entrance to the flashpoint site, Muslim worshippers still refuse to enter

Israeli security forces stand guard as Palestinian Muslim worshippers pray outside Lions Gate which leads to the Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem's Old City on July 26, 2017 during an ongoing standoff between Israel and Muslim worshippers at the holy site.
AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP

Thousands of Muslim worshippers attended the evening prayer Wednesday outside the Temple Mount. The worshippers arrived in recent hours, joining the dozens of Palestinians already at the flashpoint site who have set up outside the Temple Mount in recent days, some only leaving to go home to sleep.

Many men and youths are at the scene, handing out food and beverages that were donated by local stores and private individuals to aid the protest vigil. As of the early evening, no clashes were reported.

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Many of the protestors told Haaretz that they would not evacuate the area until "the situation is restored to how it was two weeks ago," that is, prior to security measures implemented following an attack that killed two policemen and resulted in temporary closure of the Temple Mount. Worshippers are not prevented from entering the holy site, but they refuse to do so mainly in light of Israel's declaration to install security cameras.

No individual has been seen entering or exiting the site. Police continue to deny journalists access to the area outside the compound, while civilians approach it freely. Those who carry press cameras are only allowed to approach the road intersecting with Lions Gate, a few hundred meters from the Temple Mount gates. Anyone who identifies as a tourist is allowed to enter and commits to the police to not take pictures inside.

On Tuesday evening, clashes broke out at the site, and, according to Palestinians, some 30 people were hurt outside the Lions Gate, with one person sustaining serious injuries.

Israel's security cabinet decided Monday night to remove the metal detectors that had led to a wave of protests amongst Palestinians and throughout the Arab world, but to leave the security cameras that had been installed. On Tuesday morning, the Waqf, trust responsible for the site's administration, announced that it would send a committee to the site in order to review the situation before submitting a report on the matter, but its position in the interim remained "to reject outright any changes, including technological measures."

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Some of the worshippers on Tuesday laid out prayer mats around the entrance to the Temple Mount without going inside. They told Haaretz that they had spent the day like this.

During prayers, no one seemed to have crossed the checkpoint into the Temple Mount. One of the worshippers at the site claimed that no one had prayed inside the Al-Aqsa compound that day.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who Haaretz learned had met Tuesday with Jerusalem Mufti Mohammed Hussein, backed the Waqf's position at the beginning of the leadership meeting. He commented that there would be no change in the Palestinians' position as long as the situation at the Al-Aqsa compound was not as it was before the 14th of the month, when the metal detectors and cameras were installed.

Speaking at the meeting's opening, Abbas addressed Palestinians in Jerusalem and expressed support for their actions: "We are with you and support you and are proud of you and proud of everything you have done. You're taking care of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and protecting it, and you defend your land and your honor and your religion and holy places. This is the right response to all those who harm our holy places. Jerusalem is our capital, and it is our sovereignty, and what you have done is the right thing. You stood as one, and we support you and support everything you do."

Abbas announced that his Sunday decision to halt security coordination with Israel has not changed. "What we have decided regarding security coordination is still in effect, and what we have decided regarding the protection of the holy places is still in effect. We are studying the developments and assessing the situation to decide on how to continue down the road."

According to Palestinian activists in Jerusalem, the real decisions are taken on the ground, and its leadership would not be able to impose policies without widespread public support.

The Al-Azhar Institution in Cairo, the most senior Sunni institution in the Arab world, commented that the measures taken by Israel in the compound and around the Al-Aqsa Mosque are void according to Islamic Sharia and international law. Al-Azhar is considered an institution that inspires many Muslim clerics in the Arab world, and its message supports the Waqf in Jerusalem.

Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, commented that the decision to replace the metal detectors with smart cameras is disrespectful towards the Muslim worshippers and an insult to their intelligence. He added that these measures violate the privacy of worshippers and desecrate the sanctity of prayer.