Jerusalem: Israel has decided to replace metal detectors with more advanced surveillance cameras at the entrance to Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the occupied East Jerusalem.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet voted to remove the metal detector gates after a meeting lasting several hours convening for a second time on Monday.
“The move does not fullfil the demands of the Muslim worshippers as the security cameras are being kept,” said Sheikh Najeh Bakirat, the director of al-Aqsa Mosque.
“Palestinians will never accept the current status, unless everything that was added after July 14 was removed,” said Sheikh Raed Saleh, an al-Aqsa official.
“The picture until this moment is not clear, they are doing it in the middle of night, in the cover of darkness, like bats. God knows what we are going to wake up the next morning.”
Gambit behind Security Cameras:
Israel installed metal detectors and security cameras after gunmen shot dead two Israeli guards near Al-Aqsa compound – Islam’s third holiest site – on July 14.
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from occupied East Jerusalem, said that as the metal detectors were being removed, hundreds of Palestinians protested against the security cameras that remained in place.
“Bulldozers were laying cables for new cameras with advanced face recognition software,” Khan said.
The cabinet statement added that it had allocated 100 million shekels (about $28 million) for the equipment and for additional police officers.
“Israeli forces fired rubber-coated steel bullets, stun grenades at the protesters, and more security forces were placed at the Lions’ gate of the mosque,” our correspondent said.
“There’s a huge amount of anger, Palestinians say they will never accept any security measures at the al-Aqsa mosque compound,” he said.
“I do not think Palestinians will accept the security cameras.”
Tensions have escalated since Israel imposed additional security measures at the Muslim-administered Al-Aqsa mosque compound seen by Palestinians as an unacceptable infringement of one of their most sacred sites.
Palestinians view the move as Israel asserting further control over the site. They have refused to enter the compound in protest and have prayed in the streets outside instead.
Khaled el-Gindy, Fellow at Brookings Institution, said that “those who say this is only about security issues, reducing it to relatively minor technical issues, really miss the narrative here”.
“… giving in to metal detectors would in a way be seen as conceding to Israel’s assertion of its sovereignty over the holy site and by extension to whole of Jerusalem,” he said from San Diego in California.
“It is an extremely politically loaded as well as practical matter for the Palestinians.”
The UN’s take:
The spike in violence triggered International alarm and prompted the United Nations Security Council to convene a meeting to seek ways of calming the situation.
Earlier on Monday, UN’s Middle East envoy said a solution was needed by Friday to the al-Aqsa crisis, which threatens to have “potential catastrophic costs well beyond the walls of the Old City”.
“It is extremely important that a solution to the current crisis be found by Friday,” Nickolay Mladenov told reporters after briefing the UN Security Council behind closed doors.
“The dangers on the ground will escalate if we go through another cycle of Friday prayer without a resolution to this current crisis.”
King Abdullah II of Jordan, the custodian of the Al-Aqsa shrine, discussed the crisis with Netanyahu, stressing the need to remove the security measures.
“There is a real desire on the part of the International community to reach a compromise but it’s not clear whether Palestinian public will accept whatever the international community will agree to,” el-Gindy said.
At least five Palestinians have been killed and hundreds injured in clashes sparked by the new security measures.
Three Israelis were also killed when a Palestinian sneaked into a house in a West Bank settlement and stabbed them.
On Friday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced that the Palestinian leadership will freeze all contact with Israel.