Cameras at holy site to ease tensions

The Dome of the Rock at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound before Friday prayers last week. The compound in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews, has been the focal point of near-daily unrest since Oct 1.
The Dome of the Rock at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound before Friday prayers last week. The compound in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews, has been the focal point of near-daily unrest since Oct 1.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Israeli agrees to 24-hour video coverage inside, as well as outside, monument

JERUSALEM • Fresh violence has flared between Israelis and Palestinians as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to install more security cameras at the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound in a bid to defuse tensions.

In a spate of incidents in the occupied West Bank yesterday, a Palestinian woman was shot dead while trying to knife Israeli border police in the West Bank, taking the number of Palestinians killed in attempted attacks and clashes to 53.

Also in the West Bank yesterday, an Israeli was stabbed and wounded by "two assailants disguised as ultra Orthodox (Jewish) men" who fled the scene, the army said.

NO CHANGE TO RULES

Israel will continue to enforce its longstanding policy: Muslims pray on the Temple Mount; non-Muslims visit the Temple Mount. As we have said many times, Israel has no intention to divide the Temple Mount, and we completely reject any attempt to suggest otherwise.

ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, using the name that is used by Jews for the holy site

Meanwhile, Palestinian police sources said a 20-year-old man was in serious condition after being "shot by a settler while harvesting olives in Sair", near where the Israeli was stabbed in the West Bank. The Palestinian Health Ministry said he had been shot five times.

The focal point of the near-daily unrest since Oct 1 is the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews, and Mr Netanyahu last Saturday agreed on new measures to allay Palestinian fears that he plans to change long-standing rules governing it.

In a statement issued affirming his country's commitment to maintaining the status quo for worship at the site, the Premier vowed that Jews would continue to be allowed to visit, but not pray at the compound, and that Israel had no intention of dividing up the compound.

"Israel will continue to enforce its longstanding policy: Muslims pray on the Temple Mount; non-Muslims visit the Temple Mount," he said, using the name that is used by Jews for the holy site.

"As we have said many times, Israel has no intention to divide the Temple Mount, and we completely reject any attempt to suggest otherwise," said Mr Netanyahu, without mentioning any specific new steps.

Israel also agreed to a suggestion made by King Abdullah II of Jordan, who is the custodian of the site, that cameras be installed to provide 24-hour video access to the site, United States Secretary of State John Kerry said last Saturday after a meeting with the King.

Mr Kerry added that the cameras would be a "game changer in discouraging anybody from disturbing the sanctity of the holy site".

Jordan's Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said Jordanian and Israeli technical teams were likely to meet soon "to discuss the implementation of this idea alongside other measures to maintain and enhance public order and calm".

Currently, cameras film the outside plaza of the compound, but not the inside of holy monuments on the site, Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said on public radio. He said having cameras inside would allow the Jordanian Waqf, which administers the site, "to control things better and not ignore that 30 youths entrenched themselves in the mosque overnight... with rocks, pipe bombs, Molotov cocktails".

During riots at the compound last month, Palestinian protesters barricaded themselves in the mosque in a bid to disrupt morning visits by Jews to the site.

They were angry over a rise in Jewish visitors during the Jewish religious holidays, some of whom pray there secretly.

Mr Sheikh Abdul-Azim Salhab, the chief Islamic judge of East Jerusalem, said he did not think calm would return unless Israel ensured Jews did not pray at the site. International Crisis Group analyst Nathan Thrall said he did not think cameras would make a difference in quelling the violence.

But former Israeli national security adviser Giora Eiland said that even if cameras did not help, they could not hurt: "The bottom line, if you ignore the emotions and propaganda: Both sides want the status quo to be preserved."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2015, with the headline 'Cameras at holy site to ease tensions'. Print Edition | Subscribe