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Jerusalem's Temple Mount to Reopen After Attack

16 Jul 2017 8:52 am
By Nancy Shekter-Porat 

TEL AVIV -- Israel will reopen the Temple Mount on Sunday for worshipers amid heightened security, two days after closing access to the revered and highly sensitive site following the latest eruption of violence in Jerusalem's Old City.

The Temple Mount will be gradually reopened in the afternoon to worshipers and visitors as part of Israel's policy to maintain the status quo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement late Saturday.

The prime minister's decision followed discussions with Israel's top security leadership. The reopening will include increased security measures such as metal detectors and security cameras around the Temple Mount, according to the statement.

Three gunmen killed two Israeli police officers near the entrance of the Temple Mount on Friday before being shot dead by Israeli security forces. One person also was wounded in the attack.

Officials identified the two slain police officers, both members of Israel's minority Druse community, as Haiel Sitawe, 30, from the town of Maghar, and Kamil Shnaan, 22, from Hurfeish.

The attackers were Arab citizens of Israel from the mainly Arab town of Umm al-Fahm, near the northern city of Haifa, according to Israeli police. They were relatives and ranged in age from 19 to 29.

In a rare move that drew protests from some Palestinians, Israeli police canceled Friday prayers at the mosque after the attack. Authorities also banned all Palestinians living in the West Bank and holding permits to enter Jerusalem from entering Israel.

Israeli security forces entered the Temple Mount and checked the area for any further threats, a break with Israel's longstanding practice of refraining from operating there to avoid friction. The inspection was necessary to prevent more violence, a senior Israeli official has said.

The Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, has often been the focus of violence between Palestinians and Israeli security forces.

In 2000, Ariel Sharon, then head of the Likud party and later Israel's prime minister, entered the plaza, sparking violence that expanded into the second Palestinian uprising, or intifada.

A new wave of Temple Mount-related violence broke out in September 2015, in part amid Palestinian claims that Israel was encroaching on the plaza and was seeking to change the longtime status quo over access to it. The bloodshed left hundreds dead, many of them Palestinian attackers.

The Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City, was the location of an ancient Jewish temple. It is bordered on one side by the Western Wall of the temple, considered the holiest site in Judaism. Al Aqsa mosque, which sits on the esplanade, is the third holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

With Israel's support, the Temple Mount is administered by the Waqf, a Muslim religious authority in Jordan. While only Muslims are currently allowed to pray on the Temple Mount, Jews are permitted to visit the area.

Abubakr Bashir in Gaza City, Nuha Musleh in Ramallah and Margaret Coker in Istanbul contributed to this article.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 16, 2017 04:52 ET (08:52 GMT)

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