Hamas described the closure of the Temple Mount in a statement on Saturday as a “religious war” and Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called on the Palestinian “uprising” to target the Israeli army and Israeli settlers in the West Bank.
Israel made the move to close the religious site after three terrorists opened fire at the Temple Mount on Friday, killing two Israeli police officers before being shot dead. The attackers were Muslim Arab citizens of Israel.
The attack was praised by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and Hamas staged a rally celebrating it. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A spokesperson for Prime Minister Netanyahu said that he had “made it clear Israel would take all necessary actions to maintain security on the Temple Mount, without changing the status quo”.
In the past week since the attack, there have been growing tensions on the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as Haram Al-Sharif, due to the Israel’s government installation of metal detectors outside the entrance of the Temple Mount – a change to the status quo in the eyes of Muslim worshippers.
According to police reports, a group of Muslim worshippers threw rocks and bottles at police officers stationed by the Temple Mount after evening prayers on Wednesday, in the third day of violence in the Old City.
The Temple Mount complex contains the Dome of the Rock as well as the al-Aqsa Mosque, which is considered to be the third holiest site in Islam. Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism – it is where the two destroyed Jewish Temples were located.
Despite the centrality of the site for Jews, after capturing the Old City and reuniting Jerusalem in 1967, Israel left the administration of the Temple Mount under the authority of the Islamic Waqf council, and control is given to each religious authority over their respective holy sites.
The status quo agreement allows a small number of non-Muslims to visit the Temple Mount during restricted hours in between Muslim prayers, but only Muslims are allowed to pray there. Jews are currently only permitted to visit the site in small numbers, but are banned from praying at the site for fear it may provoke a violent response.
Security at the Muslim entrance to the site, where the terrorists are believed to have entered, is far less rigorous than the non-Muslim entrance.
Israel actively upholds the existing status quo, according to which non-Muslims can visit the Temple Mount at fixed times, but are not permitted to conduct any prayers.