Israel has until Thursday night to remove the body scanners and metal detectors from the entrance to Har HaBayis – an ultimatum issued by no less than the United States, according to the London-based A-Sharq al-Awsat daily. According to the report, the ultimatum is the result of efforts by Jordan and Saudi Arabia to convince the United States that failure to remove the security measures before Friday, when mass protests are planned for Har Habayis, could lead to major riots.
In a statement released Wednesday night, the White House said that it is “very concerned about tensions surrounding the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif, a site holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians, and calls upon the State of Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to make a good-faith effort to reduce tensions and to find a solution that assures public safety and the security of the site and maintains the status quo. The United States will continue to closely monitor the developments.”
The report, cited on Channel One, quoted a Palestinian Authority official as saying that instead of the body scanners, Israel will institute body searches, which he said the Palestinians are not opposed to. “The searches can be conducted on people who appear suspicious or are carrying bags, not on everyone,” the official said.
The Waqf is still boycotting Har HaBayis, refusing to enter the compound by having to pass through the security measures. The current plan is to conduct a mass prayer session on Friday morning outside the gates of Har HaBayis. The Waqf has called on mosques throughout Israel to cancel services Friday and instead attend the protests, and officials say they expect tens of thousands of Arabs from around the country to converge on the Old City.
Reports Wednesday said that Israel had been conducting intensive talks with Jordan on ways to defuse the crisis. Among the ideas proposed have been selective use of the body scanners, for instance, that visitors to Har HaBayis over a certain age would be exempt from a security check. Another idea was the placement of security cameras throughout the compound – a move that Israel and Jordan had already agreed on several years ago, but that the Waqf vetoed.
Yediot Acharonot quoted police officials as saying that despite the tension, they were opposed to the removal of the security equipment. The officials said that the state’s regressing from the current stance would be a “severe tactical mistake,” and would encourage more rioting and terror attacks, as has happened in the past when Israel backtracked on security measures.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Thursday that the metal detectors are essential to maintain security at Har HaBayis despite the rising tensions and a Muslim call for mass protests in the city.
Erdan told Army Radio that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will rule on the issue later in the day when he returns from a working visit to Europe. But Erdan insisted the new Israeli measures did not change the status of the site and were necessary to carry out proper security checks.