“Israel is committed to preserving the status quo at the Temple Mount and the freedom of access to the holy places,” Israeli officials said in a statement after the cabinet meeting, adding, “The cabinet has authorized the Israel police to take any decision to ensure the freedom of access to the holy sites, while maintaining security and public order.”
Critics said that the government was evading responsibility for keeping the metal detectors in place by leaving the ultimate decision up to the police. The police issued a statement in the morning clarifying that entry to the site through metal detectors was “according to the decision of the highest political echelon,” and that the police would decide how strict the security checks would be based on assessments of the situation.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has come under pressure from right-wing members of his coalition, who urged him not to “cave in” to Palestinian protest and who said that removing the metal detectors would send a message of weakness and lack of resolve regarding Israeli control of the area.
“The decision to leave the metal detectors at the entrance to the Temple Mount is the right decision,” Tzipi Hotovely, a deputy foreign minister from Mr. Netanyahu’s conservative Likud Party, wrote on Twitter on Friday. “The Prime Minister defended the national interest.” She also praised the Likud minister of public security, Gilad Erdan, for standing up to the Shin Bet on the issue.
Israel captured East Jerusalem, along with its holy sites, from Jordan in the 1967 war and then annexed the area in a move that was never internationally recognized. Aware of the potentially explosive religious and political sensitivities, Israel allowed the Waqf to remain in charge of day-to-day affairs inside the mosque compound under the aegis of Jordan. Jordan’s special role in administering the site was reaffirmed in its 1994 peace treaty with Israel.
Disputes over the holy site have set off several waves of deadly violence in the past.
International efforts have been underway this week to resolve the metal detector crisis. The White House issued a statement on Wednesday saying the United States was “very concerned about tensions” surrounding the holy site and called on Israel and Jordan to make “a good-faith effort” to calm the atmosphere.
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official, described the placement of metal detectors, as well as security cameras, at the entrances to the Aqsa Mosque compound as “a flagrant violation of the rights and freedoms of Palestinian Muslim worshipers.” “Such intrusive and dehumanizing practices,” she said in a statement, “aim to provide Israel with carte blanche to exercise security control over the holy sites of Jerusalem.”
According to Israeli radio reports, protest marches were also held on Friday in Indonesia, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia and Turkey.