Israel removes metal detectors from al-Aqsa compound

Palestinians continue to protest as mosque official says move does not fulfill Muslims’ demands to remove CCTV cameras.

Israel has decided to remove metal detectors it had placed at the entrance to the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem and replace them with more advanced surveillance cameras.

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.

Sheikh Najeh Bakirat, director of al-Aqsa Mosque, said on Tuesday that the move does not fulfil the demands of the Muslim worshippers as the security cameras remain.

Clashes over al-Aqsa Mosque compound persist amid diplomatic efforts

Sheikh Raed Saleh, an al-Aqsa official, said that the Palestinians would “never accept the current status, unless everything that was added after July 14 was removed”.

“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,” Saleh said.

Israel installed metal detectors and security cameras after gunmen shot dead two Israeli guards near the al-Aqsa compound, Islam’s third holiest site, on July 14.

On Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority said the Israeli government bears full responsibility for attacking al-Aqsa and changing the religious landmarks of Jerusalem.

“We affirm the historical and religious right to the al-Aqsa Mosque and warn that the Israeli occupation attempts to evade the benefits of peace,” Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said.

“We condemn all Israeli measures that deprive the Palestinian people of their right to perform acts of worship and reject all obstacles that prevent worship, which is the right of all international conventions. We demand a return to the status quo before 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.

He said that bulldozers were laying cables for new cameras with advanced face recognition software.

The cabinet statement added that it had allocated 100 million shekels (approximately $28m) for the equipment and additional police officers.

OPINION: The al-Aqsa metal detectors aren’t a security measure

“Israeli forces fired rubber-coated steel bullets and stun grenades at the protesters, and more security forces were placed at the Lions’ gate of the mosque,” he said.

“There’s a huge amount of anger. Palestinians say they will never accept any security measures at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound.”

On Tuesday evening the Israeli security forces used stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse crowds of Palestinian worshippers outside the compound. 

“Just after the evening prayers had finished, the Israeli security forces came out of the al-Aqsa Mosque compound and used stun grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets to disperse the crowd … We don’t know what sparked this latest round of violence but we do know that the Palestinian protesters were unarmed,” said Khan.

“I have counted at least five protesters injured when the Palestinian Red Crescent brought them in through here.”

‘Catastrophic costs’ 

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, a fellow at Brookings Institution, said that “those who say this is only about security issues, reducing it to a relatively minor technical issue, 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.”

Is Israel changing the status quo around Al Aqsa?

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, the UN 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.

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 entered a house in a West Bank settlement and stabbed them.

On Friday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced that the Palestinian leadership would freeze all contact with Israel.

Tensions have escalated since Israel imposed additional security measures at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound [Ammar Awad/Reuters]
Tensions have escalated since Israel imposed additional security measures at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound [Ammar Awad/Reuters]