Police halt Jewish visits to Temple Mount

The Jerusalem Post (Israel), July 30, 2003

Just weeks after opening the Temple Mount to Jews and Christians for the first time in nearly three years, Jerusalem police on Wednesday abruptly suspended the limited visits in the face of rising Palestinian anger.

Jerusalem police spokeswoman Sigal Toledano said the decision to again close off Judaism’s holiest site was made because of “operational considerations,” and declined to say when visits would be renewed.

On Tuesday, Abe Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, announced he and members of his organization were scheduled to visit the Temple Mount. Early Wednesday, shortly before the group’s planned visit, police told them not to come, said Laura Kam Issacharoff, ADL’s Israel associate director.

Last month, police announced they had begun permitting small groups of Jewish and Christian tourists, as well as Israelis, to reenter the site, nearly three years after it was closed off to non-Muslims.

Officials from the Islamic Wakf, which maintains the day to day maintenance at the area, have since expressed growing opposition to reentry of the visitors, a move apparently taken without their consent or approval.

The heads of the Wakf had held an emergency meeting last week to discuss the reopening of the site, with some officials – urged on by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat – demanding that the gates to the Temple Mount be closed to prevent Jews from entering the compound

On Thursday night, for the second time in three weeks, Jerusalem police announced that they were imposing restrictions on Muslim entry to Friday prayers at the Temple Mount to men over the age of 40, after receiving intelligence alerts over possible violence at the site.

Fearing renewed Palestinian violence, police have barred non-Muslims from entering the Temple Mount since Ariel Sharon’s controversial visit in September 2000. The 33 months since has been the longest period Judaism’s holiest site has been closed to Jews and Christians since the unification of Jerusalem in 1967. In recent days, Israeli security officials grew concerned over the renewal of violence at the site, leading to its renewed closure.

Last week, in a chorus of criticism lead by the Palestinian leader. Arafat, warned of “grave consequences” if Israel continues to allow Jews to visit the Temple Mount, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas called the partial reopening of the site “provocative,” and Arab League Secretary-general Amr Moussa called the developments “very dangerous” and “an insult to Muslims everywhere.”

Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski last week said he disagreed with letting Jews on the site. Haredim such as Lupolianski avoid the Temple Mount for fear of accidentally stepping on the site of the “Holy of Holies” from the Jewish Temple that stood there until the Romans destroyed it in 70 CE.

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