Israel Installs Cameras at Holy Site Amid Flaring Tensions With Muslim Worshipers

Image: Security measures which include metal detectors and cameras outside Lions' Gate
Security measures which include metal detectors and cameras outside Lions' Gate, a main entrance to Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem on July 23, 2017.Ahmad Gharabli / AFP - Getty Images

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By Associated Press

JERUSALEM — Israel installed security cameras Sunday at the entrance to a sensitive Jerusalem holy site as officials began indicating that they were considering "alternatives" to the metal detectors at the contested shrine that set off a weekend of violence and raised tensions in the region.

Israel set up the new security measures last week after Arab gunmen opened fire from the shrine, killing two Israeli policemen. It said they were a necessary measure to prevent more attacks and were deployed routinely at holy sites around the world. But Muslims alleged that Israel was trying to expand its control at the Muslim-administered site and have launched mass prayer protests.

Three Palestinians were killed in clashes Friday in some of the worst street violence in years, and later a Palestinian stabbed three members of an Israeli family to death.

Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, who heads the Israeli defense body for Palestinian civilian affairs, said Israel was open to alternatives to lower the tensions.

"The only thing we want is to ensure no one can enter with weapons again and carry out another attack," he said. "We're willing to examine alternatives to the metal detectors as long as the solution of alternative ensures the prevention of the next attack."

However, the top Muslim cleric of Jerusalem, Mohammed Hussein, told the Voice of Palestine that he demands a complete return to procedures that were in place before the initial attack at the shrine, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

In a statement Sunday, the Islamic institutions in Jerusalem, of which he is a part, said they "affirm the categorical rejection of the electronic gates and all the measures of occupation."

Security measures which include metal detectors and cameras outside Lions' Gate, a main entrance to Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem on Sunday.Ahmad Gharabli / AFP - Getty Images

Meanwhile in Jordan, three people, including an Israeli man, were wounded by gunfire in a residential building in the Israeli Embassy's heavily fortified compound in Jordan's capital, Amman, the kingdom's Public Security Directorate said. The Israeli Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment.

Disputes over the shrine, revered by Muslims and Jews, have set off major rounds of Israeli-Palestinian confrontations in the past.

On Friday, several thousand Palestinians clashed with Israeli security forces in the West Bank and in Jerusalem after noon prayers — the centerpiece of the Muslim religious week. Three Palestinians were killed and several dozen other people were wounded after protesters burned tires and threw stones and firecrackers. Israeli troops responded with live rounds, rubber bullets and tear gas.

Late Friday, a 20-year-old Palestinian identified as Omar al-Abed jumped over the fence of the Halamish settlement near Ramallah and entered a home, surprising a family that was celebrating a new grandchild during their traditional Sabbath dinner. He stabbed to death Yosef Salomon, 70, and his adult children, Chaya, 46, and Elad, 35, while another woman escaped to a separate room to shelter her young children.

A neighbor, an off-duty soldier, heard the screams, rushed to the home and opened fire, wounding the attacker. TV video showed the floor tiles drenched in blood, and officials called it a "massacre."

"This has nothing to do with metal detectors. There is no justification for murdering a grandfather at a party to celebrate the birth of his new grandson," said Oded Revivi, the chief foreign envoy of the Yesha settlers' council.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the attack as "an act of terror, carried out by a beast who was incited with unfathomable hatred."

At his weekly Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu vowed that the killer's home would be demolished swiftly in retribution and that those who incited and glorified his act would be dealt with.

Palestinian worshipers demonstrate outside Jerusalem's Old City after Israeli police barred men under 50 from entering for Friday Muslim prayers following rising tensions after new security measures were introduced, July 21, 2017.Ahmad Gharabli / AFP - Getty Images

"Since the beginning of the events I've conducted a series of meetings and evaluations with the all the security officials, including those on the ground. We receive updates on the ground from them and recommendations on how to act and we decide accordingly," he said.

Israel has repeatedly accused the Palestinian Authority of permitting anti-Israeli incitement in the public Palestinian discourse and vowed to act against it. The Palestinians reject the allegations, saying Israel's 50-year-old occupation of lands sought for a Palestinian state is at the root of widespread Palestinian anger and helps drive violence.

Israel has yet to comment on the new cameras and whether they offered a chance to restore calm. A top adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he was holding consultations with various countries, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morocco, about the crisis.

Abbas announced Friday he would "freeze" ties with Israel "on all levels" until the new security measures Israel imposed at the Jerusalem site were removed. Halting security coordination with Israel would have far-reaching repercussions and could sharply raise tensions.

But Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman says the security ties are more beneficial to the Palestinians anyway, and while Israel can live without them the Palestinians would suffer.

"We are not going to chase after them," Lieberman told the YNet news site, before lambasting Abbas for not condemning the stabbing attack. "We need to understand that he is not a partner. He is not looking for peace."

The assailant said in a pre-attack Facebook post that he expected to be killed in the attack and his father said he was motivated by the violence at the Jerusalem shrine, which in a rare move was briefly shut down last week after the shooting attack.

The site is administered by Muslim authorities under the auspices of Jordan but Israel maintains security control of the compound.

Anticipating a demolition, local residents in the village of Kobar said the family emptied its home of valuables Saturday. Later, clashes erupted as residents burned tires and hurled rocks at Israeli troops who had searched the home. The military said about 50 people attacked troops who fired back with rubber bullets and tear gas.

Low-level clashes took place elsewhere throughout the day. In one, a Palestinian died under questionable circumstances. Witnesses said the 23-year-old tried to hurl a metal pipe filled with homemade explosives at Israeli soldiers but it exploded in his hand. Ramallah Hospital director Ahmad Betawi said the man died of shrapnel wounds but could not define what kind without an autopsy.

Israel fortified its troops in the West Bank and placed forces on high alert after the attack. The Israeli military said it carried out a wave of overnight arrests of 29 people, including several members of the Islamic Hamas militant group.

Gaza's Hamas rulers have praised the attack, but stopped short of taking responsibility for it.