Israel boosts security over tensions at religious site

Jerusalem (AFP) –


Israel's army has been boosting its forces ahead of possible unrest over new security measures at a sensitive holy site that have angered Muslims and Palestinian leaders, a military spokeswoman said Thursday.

Palestinians have been refusing to enter the Haram al-Sharif compound in annexed east Jerusalem since Sunday, when Israel began installing metal detectors at entrances to the site following an attack that killed two police officers.

Palestinian and Muslim religious leaders have called on 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.

The weekly Friday prayers draw the largest number of participants, and speculation has intensified over whether 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 over the weekend.

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

"A few days ago two policemen were murdered because of a security breach," said Naftali Bennett, head of the far-right Jewish Home.

"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," Bennett said.

On July 14, three Arab Israelis opened fire on Israeli police, killing two officers, before fleeing to the compound, where security forces shot them dead.

Israel sealed off the site in the aftermath of the attack, saying the closure was necessary to carry out security checks.

The site reopened on Sunday, but with metal detectors at entrances, prompting the Palestinian boycott over alleged Israeli efforts to expand their control over the sensitive site.