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Israeli PM announces heightened security measures at Al-Aqsa after attack

July 15, 2017 11:10 P.M. (Updated: July 16, 2017 1:33 P.M.)
Israeli border police deploy at Al-Aqsa Mosque compound Friday after deadly attack (Israeli police spokesperson)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to introduce heightened security measures at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound following a deadly shooting attack at the holy site Friday, amid mounting concerns that Israel's harsh response to the incident could lead to a change in the historical and religious status quo at the mosque.

After completing the planned "security consultations" Saturday evening, the prime minister's office confirmed that the mosque, which has been closed to Palestinians since immediately after the attack, would be "gradually reopened" starting noon on Sunday to Muslim worshippers, as well as to "visitors and tourists."

The Israeli government also decided that metal detectors will be established at every entrance to the compound and that surveillance cameras will be installed outside the perimeter.

Meanwhile, "more security measures will be taken on the Temple Mount later on," the prime minister's office announced -- using the Israeli term for the compound, after the security meeting, which also involved the Israeli police commissioner, public security minister, and the head of the Israel's internal security agency the Shin Bet.

After the attack, which left two Israeli border policemen killed and three Palestinian assailants shot dead, Israeli authorities prevented Muslims from performing prayers at the mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, for the first time since 1967, while the ensuing lockdown on the compound was the first time such a measure was implemented since 2014, according to reports.

As a result, local Palestinians have been forced to gather outside of the mosque's entrances and in surrounding streets to pray and to express their opposition to the security measures that have been denounced by Palestinian leadership as collective punishment.

The entirety of the Old City has been shuttered to Palestinians who don't reside there, while Israelis and tourists have been allowed to enter undisturbed, according to Israeli news outlet Haaretz.

Since Friday, Israeli forces have detained dozens of worshippers and employees of the Islamic endowment (Waqf) that manages the compound, as well as the grand mufti of Jerusalem Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, who has since been released after hours of interrogation.

Waqf officials told Ma’an Saturday morning that the adhan -- the Muslim call to prayer -- had not been performed since Israel’s restrictions on Al-Aqsa.

A statement released Friday afternoon by the Jordanian government, which legally controls the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, demanded that Israel immediately open the mosque and warned Israel of taking steps that could “change the historic status quo in Jerusalem and the mosque."

The Arab League has also condemned Israel’s restrictions on Al-Aqsa, reportedly saying that the decision to enforce its closure would “flame extremism and escalate tension” in the region.

However, Netanyahu has reportedly told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that the status quo at Al-Aqsa mosque would remain in place.

Following Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel has maintained a compromise with the Islamic trust that controls the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound to not allow non-Muslim prayers in the area. However, non-Muslims are permitted to visit the site during designated times.

Israeli forces nonetheless regularly escort Jewish visitors to the compound, who often carry out Jewish religious rituals and prayers at the site, leading to tensions with Palestinian worshipers.

Palestinians have long feared that Israel has been attempting to shake up the status quo at the holy site, in the shape of routine Jewish incursions on the site and right-wing Israeli calls to demolish the mosque and replace it with a third Jewish temple.

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