Israel removing detectors from Jerusalem shrine in bid to end stand-off with Palestine, Jordan

Israeli Border Police walk past the area where metal detectors were removed at an entrance to the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, on July 25, 2017.
Israeli Border Police walk past the area where metal detectors were removed at an entrance to the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, on July 25, 2017.PHOTO: EPA

TEL AVIV (BLOOMBERG, AFP) - Israel began removing metal detectors from a contested Jerusalem shrine in a bid to quell violent Palestinian opposition, in a deal that also helped to end a diplomatic stand-off with Jordan.

The decision was part of a broader deal that allowed Israeli diplomats and embassy personnel in Jordan to return home late Monday (July 24) following a deadly shooting at the diplomatic compound in Amman, resolving a stand-off between the two American allies.

Shortly after the release, Israel accepted Palestinian demands to take down the detectors and said it would replace them with unspecified security equipment "based on advanced technologies".

The deal was coordinated with White House aides Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, who was dispatched to the region on an emergency mission. Palestinians saw the devices as an assertion of Israeli sovereignty over the hilltop, to which they also lay claim.

The site is home to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam's third-holiest shrine, and is Judaism's holiest place.

Muslim officials said on Tuesday (July 25) worshippers should continue to boycott the holy site even after Israel removed the 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 which administers the mosque compound.

Fatah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' political party, said it rejects any changes made to the compound including replacing the detectors with surveillance cameras, which were also installed at the shrine along with the detectors after two Israeli policemen were shot dead there this month.

Mr Mahmoud al-Aloul, vice-president of the Fatah movement, said a meeting would be held on Wednesday to discuss Israel's "intention to install surveillance cameras on the gates of Al-Aqsa Mosque".

There was no comment from Mr Abbas's Palestinian Authority.

The Muslim trust known as the Waqf that administers the compound on Jordan's behalf said it wants the situation on the mount restored to its previous state. The decision to remove the contentious devices, whose installation touched off an outbreak of unrest that claimed the lives of five Palestinians and three Israelis, was announced after Jordan released the Israeli embassy personnel.

The returning staffers included a security guard who shot dead a workman who stabbed him from behind with a screwdriver, plus another Jordanian bystander, according to Israel's account.

Jordan had initially insisted on interrogating him, but Israel resisted, saying he was immune from questioning or detention under an international agreement governing diplomatic relations. 

The shooting had complicated efforts to end the violence at the Jerusalem shrine, where Muslim faithful believe the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven and which Jews revere as the site of their biblical temple.

The site is under Israeli security control but Jordan is the religious custodian under an agreement reached shortly after Israel captured the eastern sector of Jerusalem, where the shrine lies, from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war.