JERUSALEM – One day before national elections here, Jerusalem police this morning closed the Temple Mount to Jews and Christians in response to what officials say are specific threats – mostly by Muslim groups – related to disrupting the voting.
The Temple Mount is the holiest site to Judaism. Muslims today were able to access the Mount without restrictions.
Temple Mount in Jerusalem
“We had information that if the Jews come to the Temple Mount, the Muslims will start violence. So we took the decision to close the Mount to Jews and tourists,” Jerusalem police spokesman Shmulik Ben Ruby told WorldNetDaily.
Police say they received alerts that Palestinian militants and Jewish Temple Mount activist groups are planning to use the politically charged period immediately prior to the elections to instigate provocations on the Mount.
The police would not specify which groups were associated with any threats to the Temple Mount, but a source in the Jerusalem District Police Department told WND the warnings were “mostly concerning Muslim groups.”
Leaders of the major Jewish Temple Mount organizations denied to WorldNetDaily they were planning any provocations.
But Raed Sallah, leader of the Islamic Movement, an extremist group that promotes Muslim sovereignty over the Mount, reportedly has been delivering speeches at Israeli mosques urging Muslims to rush to the Al Aqsa Mosque on the Mount before elections to protect it from “Jewish attacks.” The Movement has been providing buses to bring Muslims to the Al Aqsa Mosque.
The Islamic Movement has been involved with Temple Mount violence, including leading riots that officially started the Palestinian intifada, or uprising, in 2000 after Arab protesters threw rocks at Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall. Those riots took place just prior to Israeli elections following a visit to the Mount by then-candidate for prime minister Ariel Sharon. Palestinian leaders, including the late Yasser Arafat, have admitted they used Sharon’s Temple Mount visit as a pretense to start the intifada.
Muslims have carried out all violent attacks on the Temple Mount the past few years. Still, the police today took action to restrict access only to Jewish and Christian visitors in response to the election-related threats.
Police are also on high alert throughout the country for terror attacks by Palestinian groups seeking to impact the elections.
Police spokesman Ben Ruby said the police will reassess the situation on election day tomorrow and may again bar Jews and Christians from the site.
Non-Muslims regularly are barred from the Temple Mount on most hours throughout the week.
The Temple Mount was opened to the general public until the intifada started in 2000. Following the onset of violence, the new Sharon government closed the Mount to non-Muslims, using checkpoints to control all pedestrian traffic for fear of further clashes with the Palestinians.
The Temple Mount was reopened to non-Muslims in August 2003. It still is open but only Sundays through Thursdays, 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., and not on any Christian, Jewish or Muslim holidays or other days considered “sensitive” by the Waqf, the Muslim custodians of the Temple Mount.
During “open” days, Jews and Christian are allowed to ascend the Mount, usually through organized tours and only if they conform first to a strict set of guidelines, which includes demands that they not pray or bring any “holy objects” to the site. Visitors are banned from entering any of the mosques without permission of the Wafq. Rules are enforced by Waqf agents, who watch tours closely and alert nearby Israeli police to any breaking of their guidelines.