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Jerusalem holy site boycott remains despite scrapped metal detectors

Thomas Coex, AFP | View of the Dome of the Rock in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem.

The Muslim committee administering a sensitive Jerusalem holy site announced Tuesday that a boycott of the shrine would continue despite Israel’s removal of controversial new security measures.


"No entry into Al-Aqsa mosque until after an assessment by a Waqf technical committee and the return of the situation to how it was before the 14th of this month," read a statement from the Waqf, the Islamic endowments organisation that administers the mosque compound.

Ikrema Sabri, the head of the Supreme Islamic Committee in the city, said Muslims should stay away from the Jerusalem shrine pending a review, which could be completed later Tuesday.

The announcement came hours after Israel took down new metal detectors and surveillance cameras that triggered a recent round of violence. However Israeli authorities said they would implement unspecified "advanced technologies and other means" instead.

Details of the “other means” were not provided, but Muslim leaders have maintained that the security arrangements must go back to what they were before the metal detectors were erected.

The Israeli announcement lifting the controversial metal detectors and surveillance cameras was hailed as a victory by the Israelis, the Jordanian authorities who helped negotiate the deal, and the US, whose envoy, Jason Greenblatt, was visiting the region Monday.

But in a region where peace has been elusive for over eight decades, few were expecting an end to the tensions at a symbolic site considered sacred by both, Jews and Muslims, that has provided the spark for deadly rounds of violence in the past.

“No, it’s not certain [to resolve the situation] because indeed the Israeli police and security forces are bracing for further violence,” explained FRANCE 24’s Irris Makler, reporting from Jerusalem earlier Monday. “Israeli security services throughout the West Bank are bolstered today, so we will see what happens between now and Friday.”

All sides claim victory

The latest round of violence was sparked by the Israeli installation of metal detectors last week after Arab gunmen killed two Israeli police guards at the site.

The move incensed the Muslim world amid allegation that Israel was trying to expand its control of the premises, home to Islam’s third-holiest site as well as the holiest site of Judaism.

The deal to lift the metal detectors and surveillance cameras was struck after a diplomatic crisis between Israel and Jordan following last week’s killing of two Jordanians by an Israeli security guard at an embassy compound in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

Jordan initially refused to release the guard to Israel while the Israeli government claimed he had diplomatic immunity.

Following a phone call between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah II Monday evening, the guard was returned to Jordan.

The events were seized by all sides with each claiming it as their own victory, explained Makler. “According to the Jordanian account, they released the Israeli staff because the Jordanian king said you have to resolve the underlyng issue that caused all this, you have to remove the metal detectors,” said Makler. “The Israeli Cabinet sees it as not entirely a capitulation because first, Jordan released the Israeli staff and then some hours later, after a second Cabinet meeting, Israel made its own decision to remove the metal detectors. So, all’s well that ends well.

"Washington can also claim a victory because [US President] Donald Trump sent his representative Jason Greenblatt to the region and on the day he was sent, the situation was resolved and indeed Prime Minister Netanyahu thanked both, the Jordanian king and the American president.”

US takes credit, Palestinians and Jordanians disagree

But the reaction in Jordan did not tow the official diplomatic victory line. Jordanian lawmakers walked out of a parliamentary session on Tuesday to protest the government’s handling of the diplomatic crisis with Israel.

Meanwhile US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said the deal could not have been struck without the contribution of the Trump administration. Friedman told Israeli lawmakers in parliament on Tuesday that the standoff in Jordan could "have gone very bad" without the US intervention. "We were able to diffuse the situation very quickly that under other circumstances could not have ended as successfully," said Friedman.

But Mustafa Barghouti, head of the Palestinian National Initiative, a left-wing Palestinian political party, dismissed the Trump administration’s contribution. “The Washington involvement was too late and too little, and unfortunately it continues to adopt Israeli demands,” said Barghouti in an interview with FRANCE 24. “The existing US administration will find it very difficult if it continues to be biased on one side. The nature of the American representatives, the structure of their delegation, the policies that are announced by the US government and the silence of the American administration are all factors that weaken the ability of the US to play a mediator role.” 

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