By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel said on Sunday it would not remove metal detectors whose installation outside a major Jerusalem mosque has triggered the bloodiest clashes with the Palestinians in years, but could eventually reduce their use.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his security Cabinet on Sunday evening. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he would halt security ties with Israel until it scraps the walk-through gates installed at entrances to Al-Aqsa mosque plaza after two police guards were shot dead on July 14.
Netanyahu’s right-wing government is wary of being seen to yield to Palestinian pressure over the site, which Jews revere as the vestige of their two ancient temples. It was among areas of East Jerusalem that Israel captured in a 1967 war and annexed as its capital, in a move not recognized internationally.
“They (metal detectors) will remain. The murderers will never tell us how to search the murderers,” Tzachi Hanegbi, Israeli minister for regional development, told Army Radio.
“If they (Palestinians) do not want to enter the mosque, then let them not enter the mosque.”
Incensed at what they perceive as a violation of delicate decades-old access arrangements at Islam’s third-holiest site, many Palestinians have refused to go through the metal detectors, holding street prayers and often violent protests.
Reuters witnesses reported some light clashes between Muslim worshippers and Israeli security forces after prayers at the entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City on Sunday night. Palestinian medical sources did not report any serious injuries.
The spike in tensions, and the deaths of three Israelis and four Palestinians in violence on Friday and Saturday, have triggered international alarm and prompted the United Nations Security Council to convene a meeting for Monday to seek ways of calming the situation.
Washington sent Jason Greenblatt, President Donald Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, to Israel on Sunday evening in hopes of helping to reduce tensions, a senior administration official said.
“President Trump and his administration are closely following unfolding events in the region,” the official said. “The United States utterly condemns the recent terrorist violence.”
Two Jordanians were killed and an Israeli was wounded in a shooting incident on Sunday in a building inside the Israeli embassy complex in Jordan’s capital, Amman, police and a security source said.
Details of what happened were unclear. Israel imposed a ban on reporting the incident and made no public comment.
Jordan has seen an outpouring of public anger against Israel in recent days, with Jordanian officials calling on it to remove the metal detectors at the Al-Aqsa mosque.
The spasm of violence began on Friday, when Israeli security forces shot three demonstrators dead, Palestinian medics said. Israeli police said they were investigating the charge.
On the same day, a Palestinian stabbed three Israelis in the occupied West Bank after vowing on Facebook to take up his knife and heed “Al-Aqsa’s call”.
A Palestinian was killed in the Jerusalem area on Saturday when an explosive device he was building went off prematurely, the Israeli military said. Palestinian medics said he died of shrapnel wounds to the chest and abdomen.
On Sunday, a rocket was launched into Israel from the Gaza Strip, but hit an open area, causing no damage, Israel’s military said.
Abbas, referring to the metal detectors in a speech on Sunday, said: “If Israel wants security coordination to be resumed, they have to withdraw those measures.
“They should know that they will eventually lose, because we have been making it our solemn duty to keep up security on our side here and on theirs.”
Gilad Erdan, Israel’s public security minister, warned of potential “large-scale volatility” – a prospect made more likely in the West Bank by the absence of Abbas’ help.
Erdan said Israel may eventually do away with metal-detector checks for Muslims entering the Al-Aqsa compounds under alternative arrangements under review. Such arrangements could include reinforcing Israeli police at the entrances and introducing CCTV cameras with facial-recognition technologies.
“There are, after all, many worshippers whom the police know, regulars, and very elderly people and so on, and it recommended that we avoid putting all of these through metal detectors,” Erdan told Army Radio, suggesting that only potential troublemakers might be subjected to extra screening.
Any such substitute arrangement was not ready, he added.
The Muslim authorities that oversee Al-Aqsa said, however, they would continue to oppose any new Israeli-imposed measures.
“We stress our absolute rejection of … all measures by the Occupation (Israel) that would change the historical and religious status in Jerusalem and its sacred sites,” the Palestinian grand mufti, acting Palestinian chief justice and Jordanian-run Waqf religious trust said in a joint statement.
Turkey also urged the removal of the metal detectors and the Arab League said Israel was “playing with fire”.
(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi and Roberta Rampton in Washington; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Peter Cooney)