Israel Signals Willingness to Compromise on Shrine Detectors

Updated on
  • 3 Palestinians killed in clashes with Israeli security forces
  • Stabbing attack near Ramallah, West Bank, kills 3 Israelis

People run for cover from teargas, fired by Israeli forces, in front of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, on July 21.

Photographer: Ahmad Gharbli/AFP via Getty Images

Israel signaled a willingness to remove metal detectors at a contested Jerusalem shrine that have touched off deadly confrontations between Israel and the Palestinians and created tensions with the Muslim world.

“We are willing to consider alternatives to metal detectors as long as the solution or alternative guarantees that the next attack doesn’t happen,” the Ynet website quoted Major General Yoav Mordechai, the top military official in the West Bank, as saying. Israel Radio said an inner cabinet of Israeli ministers with security responsibilities would meet on Sunday to discuss the security arrangements at the hilltop compound in Jerusalem’s Old City.

The remarks by a person of Mordechai’s rank -- which the radio station said were originally delivered in interviews with Arabic-language media -- appeared intended to calm the passions that have been ignited by the installation of the devices at the shrine. The compound is home to the Al-Aqsa mosque complex, Islam’s third-holiest shrine, and is venerated by Jews as Temple Mount, the site of their biblical temple.

The Ha’aretz newspaper reported that the White House was in talks with Israel, the Palestinians and Jordan, the custodian of the shrine, in an effort to stem the violence. The United Nations Security Council will hold a special session on the unrest on Monday, the newspaper said.

A week of violence escalated sharply on Friday, when three Palestinian protesters were killed in clashes with Israeli security forces and three Israelis were stabbed to death by a Palestinian attacker who invaded a West Bank settlement home.

Read more: Why Two-State Idea for Israel, Palestine Has Faded : QuickTake

Tensions have been seething in Jerusalem, and have spilled over into the West Bank and Gaza Strip, because of conflicting narratives over the metal detectors, which were installed after two Israeli policemen were killed at the site by Israeli Arab gunmen this week. 

Israel says they are purely a security precaution, but Muslims opposed to their presence view them as a tightening of Jewish control over the shrine holy to both faiths. Muslims across the world have demanded the devices be removed, and the diplomatic fallout intensified Friday after the Palestinian Authority served notice that it was cutting off all contacts with Israel, at a time when the U.S. administration is trying to restart peace talks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had considered taking down the detectors at the advice of the army and internal security service, but the government left the decision to police, which favored keeping them in place.

The hilltop compound lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and competing claims to the site have made it a frequent flashpoint for violence. It is located in the eastern sector of the city that Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war and Palestinians want for a future capital.

Unrest persisted in the Jerusalem area on Saturday, but at a lower level. The Palestinian Health Ministry reported that a man died at a confrontation between protesters and Israeli security forces. The circumstances of his death were unclear.

The installation of the metal detectors has also been criticized by the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Egypt, and by Jordan, which sees it as disrupting the delicate status quo in place at the complex since the 1967 war, which retained the Hashemite kingdom’s role as its custodian.

Netanyahu has said the status quo will be maintained, and Mordechai repeated that message on Saturday.

(A previous version of this story was corrected to show there were multiple Arab gunmen involved in Israeli police killing.)

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