Public Security Minister Omer Barlev insisted on Sunday that the status quo on the Temple Mount “is in place and will remain so,” after months of media reports showing Jewish worshipers openly praying at the site while that the police closed their eyes.

“The Israeli police scrupulously maintain the status quo on the Temple Mount, which is sacred to both Jews and Muslims,” ​​said Barlev, whose ministry is responsible for overseeing law enforcement.

Barlev made his remarks following a meeting with senior Israeli law enforcement officials, including Israel Police Chief Kobi Shabtai and Jerusalem Police Chief Doron Turgeman. Officials from the Foreign Ministry and the Shin Bet were also present, according to Barlev’s office.

“The police have made every effort to protect the status quo – barring exceptional circumstances – which they quickly identified and acted against,” Barlev said.

The Temple Mount, known to Muslims for its Al-Aqsa Mosque, is the holiest site for Jews and the site of Islam’s third holiest shrine. It is one of the most emotionally contested locations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the clashes there have been part of the backdrop to the 11-day conflict launched by Hamas from Gaza in May.

Since Israel took East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 war, a fragile arrangement has prevailed on the Holy Hill: only Muslims are allowed to worship on the Temple Mount itself, while Jews pray. at the Western Wall, revered as a vestige of the Second Temple. .

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev at a meeting of the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee at the Knesset in Jerusalem on September 13, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi / Flash90)

In recent months, Israeli and international media have repeatedly shown that police are apparently relaxing restrictions on Jewish prayer, in an apparent change from the status quo. Jewish visitors were filmed apparently allowed to pray freely, as officers watched.

In mid-July, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett issued a statement appearing to assert the right of Jews to “freedom of worship” at the holy site. The prime minister’s office later reversed the remarks, but not before they sparked a slight storm of condemnation from Arab and Muslim leaders.

In another surprising move that angered Muslims, a Jerusalem magistrate earlier this month quashed a police order banning a Jewish man from accessing the site for 15 days after he was seen sneaking around. pray quietly there. The magistrate judge ruled that because the prayer was done silently and not openly, it could not pose a security risk, which the police use to justify enforcing the ban.

An Israeli appeals judge overturned the lower court’s decision, but not before the story spread throughout the Arab and Islamic world. Jordan, Egypt, the Arab League and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation have all condemned the decision.

Minor changes in the status quo – or even rumors of such changes – at the tense site have sparked violent clashes between Palestinians and Israelis in the past. In 2017, Israel installed metal detectors on the Temple Mount after Palestinian terrorists killed two Israeli policemen. The move sparked a series of Palestinian protests, clashes and terrorist attacks that left several Palestinians and Israelis dead.

According to the Walla news site, officials from the Shin Bet agency expressed concern to Barlev during the meeting that a group of Jews would try to organize an open prayer service at the Temple Mount, sparking similar violence. .

Shin Bet agents also reportedly said that “elements in the Arab world and in Turkey” were trying to exploit the cases of Jewish individuals praying on the Temple Mount to stir up such tensions.

Barlev denied in July that there had been a change in policy at the Temple Mount. In an interview with the Israeli channel Channel 13, the minister said: “If the Jews prayed on the Temple Mount, it is certainly against the law.

On Sunday, the director of Al-Aqsa Mosque, Omar al-Kiswani, mocked Barlev’s assurances that nothing has changed: “These are statements intended to have political effect; they have nothing to do with reality.

“Maybe he’s saying this to comfort Jordan, or the Arab world, or Muslims, but it doesn’t reflect the bitter reality of the site,” al-Kiswani told The Times of Israel.

Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani, director of the Islamic Waqf of Al-Aqsa Mosque, leading a prayer in Birmingham, UK, January 2020 (Screen capture: YouTube)

Former right-wing Likud parliamentarian Yehuda Glick, a prominent advocate for the right of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount, said on Sunday that Jews have been praying openly at the site since 2016, when the former district police commander from Jerusalem Yoram Halevi took charge of the site.

“There was silent agreement on several issues – including that Muslims could once again pray to the [Temple Mount’s] Golden Gate, and the Jews were quietly allowed to pray, ”Glick said on a phone call.

The activist criticized Barlev for what he called unreasonable restrictions on Jewish visiting hours at the holy site. “They limit the size of groups we are allowed to take, they prevent prayer, there are more arrests and orders banning Jews [from visiting] – we haven’t seen this for a while.

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