Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is weighing whether to remove metal detectors at a Jerusalem holy site whose installation after a deadly attack last week has stoked Palestinian protests, an Israeli cabinet minister said on Thursday.

There have been nightly confrontations between Palestinians hurling rocks and Israeli police using stun grenades in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem since the devices were placed on Sunday at entrances to the Temple Mount-Noble Sanctuary compound.

Tensions remain high ahead of Friday prayers when thousands of Muslims usually flock to al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third holiest shrine, in the compound above Judaism's sacred Western Wall.

The Israeli army said it had put five battalions on standby to reinforce troops in the occupied West Bank if required.

Muslim religious authorities, who say the metal detectors violate a delicate agreement on worship and security arrangements at the Jerusalem site, have been urging Palestinians not to pass through, and prayers have been held near an entrance to the complex.

Netanyahu was due to hold security consultations over the issue, and likely decide on a course of action, on his return to Israel later in the day from visits to France and Hungary, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said.

Far-right members of Netanyahu's government have publicly urged him to keep the devices in place at the flashpoint site, but Israeli media reports said security chiefs were divided over the issue amid concerns of wider protests in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

"The prime minister is considering whether to change this decision, and that's his prerogative," Erdan said on Army Radio. He described the equipment as a legitimate security measure.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by phone on Thursday on the issue.

The White House said it was "very concerned" about the tensions and called on Israel and Jordan, the holy site's custodian, to work toward a solution.

UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov also expressed concern and called on "moderate voices to speak up against those who try to fuel tensions". In the Gaza Strip, Islamist movement Hamas, Abbas's rivals, called for a day of "rage" on Friday. The new security measures were put in place following the gun and knife attack on Friday last week near the site that killed two Israeli policemen. Three Arab Israeli assailants fled to the compound after the attack, where they were shot dead by security forces.

Israel initially closed the site for two days following the attack in a highly unusual move, shutting it for last Friday's prayers. It said the closure was necessary for security checks, adding the three attackers had come from the direction of the site. Israel began reopening it on Sunday, but with metal detectors in place to prevent the smuggling of weapons into the compound.

The move angered Palestinians and Muslims who saw it as Israel asserting further control over the site. Palestinians have been refusing to enter the compound since then. Hundreds have been holding prayers outside the site, with clashes occasionally breaking out with Israeli police.

Army reinforcements

The weekly Friday prayers draw the largest number of participants, and speculation has intensified over whether Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will order the removal of the metal detectors.

On Thursday, the army said it was leaving five extra battalions on alert, including in the occupied West Bank. A spokeswoman told AFP the army would decide whether to keep them deployed for the entire weekend.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told army radio that Netanyahu would decide on the policy for the site but he "hoped" the metal detectors would remain in place for the weekend.

Members of Netanyahu's right-wing coalition have been pressuring him to leave the detectors in place and "ensure security" at the site.

"Caving in to Palestinian pressure now will hurt Israel's deterrence and risk the lives of visitors, worshippers and law enforcement officials on Temple Mount," said Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the far-right Jewish Home.

Remove Jerusalem metal

detectors, Erdogan tells Israel

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday urged his Israeli counterpart Reuven Rivlin to swiftly remove metal detectors that have outraged Muslim Palestinian worshippers at a sensitive holy site in annexed east Jerusalem.

Palestinians have been refusing to enter the Haram al-Sharif compound since Sunday, when Israel began installing metal detectors at entrances to the site following an attack that killed two police officers. “Within the framework of freedom of religion and worship there can be no impediment for Muslims” entering the holy site, the Anadolu news agency quoted Erdogan as telling Rivlin.

“Given the importance that Haram al-Sharif carries for the whole Islamic world, the metal detectors put in place by Israel should be removed in the shortest possible time and an end put to the tension,” Erdogan added.

The Turkish leader had earlier held telephone talks with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas, telling him the measures imposed by Israel were “unacceptable”.

Turkey and Israeli last year ended a rift triggered by Israel’s deadly storming in 2010 of a Gaza-bound ship that left 10 Turkish activists dead.

But Erdogan, who regards himself a champion of the Palestinian cause, is still often critical of Israeli policy.

Palestinian and Muslim religious leaders have urged worshippers not to enter the compound through the metal detectors, and hundreds have been holding prayers outside the site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, with clashes occasionally breaking out.

Erdogan expressed sadness over the “loss of lives” in the incident on July 14 when two Israeli police officers were shot dead by three Arab Israeli attackers who were killed by security forces.

Erdogan said such violence could never be approved.

A statement by the Israeli presidency said that Rivlin had reminded Erdogan that Israel had shown solidarity with Turkey over terror attacks on Turkish territory last year.

“The steps taken on the Temple Mount were intended to ensure that such acts of terror could not be repeated,” Rivlin told Erdogan.

Erdogan’s call came a day ahead of the weekly Friday prayers, with speculation intensifying over whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will order the removal of the metal detectors.

The spokesman for Erdogan, Ibrahim Kalin, had earlier expressed concern that the use of the metal detectors was part of a step-by-step change in the status of the entire complex.

 

 

 

Yehuda Glick, a lawmaker from Netanyahu's Likud party, had in March petitioned the Supreme Court against the ban, and in response the justice ministry said this month the state would allow a five-day pilot to see whether the ban could be relaxed.

The trial was set to begin on Sunday, and Edelstein's letter to the lawmakers was understood as meaning it would be delayed.

The compound is the holiest site in Judaism and the third-holiest in Islam, and it is central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It is located in east Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.

Jews are allowed to visit the compound but not pray there to avoid provoking tensions. Netanyahu has stressed in recent days that he remains committed to the current rules.