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Israel Dismantles Metal Detectors at Disputed Jerusalem Holy Place

  • Robert Berger

Israeli police officers dismantle metal detectors outside the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, July 25, 2017.

Israel has backed down in a confrontation over a disputed Jerusalem holy place that is sacred to Muslims and Jews, but Palestinians say simply removing the metal detectors at the Al-Aqsa Mosque is not enough.

Israel removed the metal detectors Tuesday and replaced them with closed-circuit television cameras, but Palestinian protests over the extra security measures are continuing.

The devices at the site known to Jews as Temple Mount were installed after Arab gunmen killed two Israeli policemen at the compound nearly two weeks ago.

The Palestinians were furious about the metal detectors, accusing Israel of violating freedom of worship and trying to seize control of the third holiest place in Islam. They refused to pass through the detectors, raising tensions as they held prayers on the streets.

The United States intervened. Ambassador David Friedman mediated a deal between Israel and Jordan, which is the custodian of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Friedman said the situation was defused quickly, saying, "it is important sometimes to get out ahead of things."

Israeli police officers walk outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, July 25, 2017.
Israeli police officers walk outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, July 25, 2017.

However, the conflict continues. Muslim officials are unhappy the detectors have been replaced by high-tech cameras and have urged Palestinians to stay away from the mosque.

Palestinian official Nabil Shaath has said the situation must return to the status quo that existed before the crisis began. He said cameras and any new security measures humiliate Muslims and are unacceptable.

Israeli Cabinet Minister Yuval Steinitz said the Palestinian Authority does not want a restoration of calm. He said Israel made a significant concession, but the Palestinians are trying to incite a religious war between Muslims and Jews.

In Washington, the State Department said while the U.S. supports measures that would de-escalate tensions, it is up to Israelis and Palestinians to decide what works to maintain the status quo of the holy site.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert on Tuesday answered a reporter's question about whether the cameras are a step in the right direction.

"We will leave it to those parties to determine what works for them," she said. "Ultimately, and as it goes with the peace process, ultimately, it's their decision to make. Both parties have to be able to live with it and be able to work with it."

Security cameras were supposed to be installed on the Temple Mount according to an agreement reached in late 2015 between Israel and Jordan under the auspices of the United States, but the plan was dropped following fierce Palestinian protests.

The Temple Mount/Al Aqsa site is considered one of the most important religious sites in the world. It has historical and spiritual significance to Muslims, Jews and Christians.

VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching contributed to this report.

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