Saudi Arabia Steps Into Har HaBayis Crisis

Israeli Border police officers checking people near newly installed metal detectors at entrance to Har HaBayis. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As a potentially explosive confrontation between Israeli authorities and Muslim worshippers continued for a third day on Tuesday, it emerged that international concern was such that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman reportedly intervened to seek to restore the status quo on Har HaBayis following a deadly terrorist attack there on Friday.

The Saudi leader sent a message to Yerushalayim via the White House, urging Israel to reopen the site to Muslim worshipers as soon as possible after Israel barred access to the public while an urgent security review was conducted.

The story, which initially appeared in the Saudi-owned Arabic news site Elaph, which quoted a “senior source,” was picked up in the Israeli news media on Tuesday.

In response, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sent reassurances that he had no intention of altering the 50-year-old status quo at the site, according to which non-Muslims may visit but not pray there.

PM Netanyahu also reportedly invited Saudi officials to visit the scene and see the situation for themselves, but has so far received no reply.

Meanwhile, tensions continue as a Fatah-declared “day of rage” looms for Wednesday. There was no sign of a break in the stalemate between Israeli officials who insist that in the wake of the bloodshed at Har HaBayis on Friday, stricter security measures must be implemented, and the Muslims who are boycotting the site until the Israelis remove the new metal detectors.

The Wakf Muslim religious trust and other Muslim authorities released a statement on Monday calling on Muslims to continue their protests, and to pray in the streets rather than submit to the new security checks.

Jerusalem District Police Commander Maj.-Gen. Yoram Halevy said in an interview on Army Radio that he has no intention of removing the metal detectors, which he said should not be a cause of so much anger.

“We intend that anyone who wishes to enter the compound will be checked,” he said. “If that won’t be the situation we will shut all the gates, and we do not want to reach that,” he added.

“I assume that as time will pass by they will understand that it is not that bad,” Halevy added. “On Fridays, when I have to go shopping, I go through metal detectors in the Malha Mall [in Yerushalayim]. No one should be intimidated by that, it became a part of our lives.”

PLO executive committee member Mustafa Barghouti responded, saying: “We have been under occupation for 50 years, and we will not ‘get used’ to the new injustice,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “People will try entering in every possible way without going through the electronic devices,” he said.

Some may not stop at merely trying to circumvent the newly fortified checkpoint.

Mohammad Arar, a resident of the Old City, told the Post that “If the metal detectors are not removed, we will see an explosion here. People would tear them down with their arms. The amount of people who enter al-Aksa every Friday is so big, so the police have three days to reevaluate.”

On Tuesday night, Arab MKs from the Joint List showed up at the Lions’ Gate in the Old City to voice support for the protests.

The MKs—Hanin Zoabi, Jamal Zahalka, Ahmad Tibi, Osama Sa’adi and Juma Azbarga—were not expected to enter the al-Aqsa Mosque but rather pray outside the complex with the general public.

“The metal detectors must be removed, they cause great unrest and in fact create a new reality that hurts the status quo,” said MK Tibi, who chairs the Joint List’s Al-Quds Committee.

“(Prime Minister) Netanyahu is the one who insists on this provocation, and he will bear the responsibility to any escalation here or in the region. The entire Arab world is up in arms. In addition to hurting the Palestinian people, this is hurting Jordan’s special authority over the holy places,” he added.

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