Photographer: Khalil Mazraawi/AFP via Getty Images

Israel Removes Detectors From Shrine in Bid to End Standoff

  • Advanced surveillance equipment will be set up as alternative
  • Palestinians reject changes for Jerusalem’s mosque compound

Israel took down metal detectors from an embattled hilltop shrine in Jerusalem’s Old City in a bid to quell violent Palestinian opposition to their presence, helping to end a diplomatic standoff with Jordan.

The removal began after Jordan -- the religious custodian of the shrine -- let Israeli diplomats and embassy personnel return home Monday following a deadly shooting at the diplomatic compound in Amman. Jordan supported the Palestinian demand that Israel dismantle the detectors, and the Israeli government said it would replace them with unspecified security equipment “based on advanced technologies.”

Israeli police officers stand outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, July 25.

Photographer: Oded Balilty/AP Photos

The deal -- which was coordinated with White House aides Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, who was dispatched to the region on an emergency mission -- turned out not to be enough to ease tensions. Palestinians see new security measures, whether metal detectors or other devices, as an assertion of Israeli sovereignty over the hilltop, to which they also lay claim. Palestinian leaders rejected the new plan at a meeting late Tuesday in Ramallah.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said cooperation with Israel on security and other matters will remain suspended unless the site returns to being managed as it was before July 14, when the metal detectors were installed.

‘Must Disappear’

“All the new Israeli measures on the ground from that date to the present must disappear,” Abbas told the gathering of senior leaders in the Palestine Liberation Organization. “Then things will return to normal in Jerusalem, and we will continue our bilateral relations.”

A resolution of the showdown is urgent because the compound is the most volatile piece of land in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The question of who controls it has been a flashpoint for prolonged violence in the past.

The site is home to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam’s third-holiest shrine, and is Judaism’s most sacred place. Under a complicated control structure reached after Israel captured the eastern sector of Jerusalem from the Jordanian military in the 1967 Middle East war, Israel is in charge of its security, but Jordan is the religious custodian.

Fatah, Abbas’ political party, said it rejects any changes made to the compound. The Muslim trust known as the Waqf, which administers the compound on Jordan’s behalf, said it wants the situation on the mount restored to its previous state.

Thousands of Palestinians continued to hold prayers in the streets of east Jerusalem after being advised to avoid the mosque complex until the Waqf determines whether the new Israeli security procedures are acceptable.

‘Day of Rage’

Along with condemning the new procedure, the PLO declared July 28 a “Day of Rage,” calling for mass protests against Israel. Other steps will include applying to join 28 international agencies -- a step Israel has tried to prevent -- according to Sabri Sidam, a participant in the meeting and member of Fatah’s central committee. The PLO will also proceed with its effort to have Israel prosecuted in the International Criminal Court.

Removal of the metal detectors was welcomed by Nikolay Mladenov, the United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, who said the crisis was “a reminder of how easy it is to reach the precipice of a dangerous escalation” between Israelis and Palestinians.

“Let us make no mistake that while events in Jerusalem may be taking place over a couple of hundred square meters in the Old City, they affect hundreds of millions of people around the world,” Mladenov said in a briefing to the Security Council Tuesday, according to an emailed text.

The installation of the security devices touched off an outbreak of unrest that claimed the lives of five Palestinians and three Israelis and was denounced across the Muslim world. Efforts to defuse the frictions were complicated by the shooting at the Israeli embassy in Amman.

The returning embassy staffers included a security guard who shot dead a workman who stabbed him from behind with a screwdriver, as well as another Jordanian bystander, according to Israel’s account. Jordan had initially insisted on interrogating the guard, but Israel resisted, saying he was immune from questioning or detention under an international agreement governing diplomatic relations. 

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi responded to criticism of the release from members of parliament, saying the government made no deals with Israel and is obligated to honor diplomatic immunity.

“It is in our interest to respect international law,” Safadi said in a Facebook post.

— With assistance by Jonathan Ferziger

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