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Sunday, 16 July 2017

Israel to reopen sensitive Jerusalem holy site after attack

Israeli authorities were to reopen an ultra-sensitive holy site Sunday closed after an attack that killed two policemen, but new security measures including metal detectors and cameras were being put in place.

Three Arab Israeli assailants opened fire on Israeli police Friday in Jerusalem’s Old City before fleeing to the nearby Haram al-Sharif, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, where they were shot dead by security forces.

Israeli authorities said they had come from the flashpoint holy site, which includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, to commit the attack.

It was among the most serious incidents in recent years in Jerusalem and heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions.

Israel took the highly unusual decision to close the Al-Aqsa mosque compound for Friday prayers, leading to anger from Muslims and Jordan, the holy site’s custodian.

It remained closed on Saturday, while parts of Jerusalem’s Old City were also under lockdown.

Israeli authorities said the closure was necessary to carry out security checks.

The site was to be reopened around noon on Sunday. Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said the metal detectors were being installed at entrances to the holy site and cameras were also being mounted in the area.

It was to be reopened gradually, police said, without providing details.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of the security measures late Saturday before departing for a trip to Paris.

“This evening I held a discussion with the top security leadership and I instructed that metal detectors be placed at the entrance gates to the Temple Mount,” he said.

“We will also install security cameras on poles outside the Temple Mount but which give almost complete control over what goes on there.”

Netanyahu spoke by phone with Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Saturday night, a statement from Amman said.

Abdullah condemned the attack, but also called on Netanyahu to reopen the Al-Aqsa compound and stressed the need to “avoid any escalation at the site.”

The new security measures are likely to be controversial.

A plan developed in 2015 between Israel and Jordan to install cameras at the site itself fell apart amid disagreement over how they would be operated.

The Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount is central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Palestinians fearing Israel may one day seek to assert further control over it.

It is located in east Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.

It is considered the third holiest site in Islam and the most sacred for Jews.

Jews are allowed to visit but not pray there to avoid provoking tensions.

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