Israel rejected on Friday evening a demand from Jordan to immediately reopen the Temple Mount after it was shut for security reasons in the wake of a deadly shooting attack at the holy site.
Following the morning attack in which three Israeli-Arabs killed two Israeli Druze police officers near Lions Gate outside the Temple Mount complex, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the rare step of sealing the site amid security sweeps, rejecting calls both by right-wingers to lift a decades-old arrangement that forbids Jewish prayer and rituals at the site and allegations that it was seeking to change the status quo.
The dramatic move was even more significant given that Fridays are a holy day in Islam, when many travel to the Temple Mount to pray.
“The status quo will be protected,” said Netanyahu in a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office.
Israel criticized Jordan for calling to “immediately reopen” the site after the attack with one official telling Israeli TV that “instead of condemning the attack, Jordan chose to attack Israel, which is protecting worshipers and maintaining freedom of worship in the place.”
“Israel will not tolerate harm to the holy places and is maintaining the status quo there. It should be expected that all sides involved, including Jordan, exercise restraint and avoid fanning the flames,” said the unnamed official
Jordan, which administers the site through the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, had earlier called on Israel to “reopen Al-Aqsa mosque and the Haram al-Sharif (compound) immediately,” in reference to the complex which houses the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock sanctuary and which Israel refers to as the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism and third-holiest in Islam.
The Jordanian royal family is officially the custodian of the mosque atop the Temple Mount, and exercises its authority there though Israel is responsible for security.
According to a report Friday, among the suspects detained in the attack was at least one Waqf official who police suspect may have aided the terrorists, all from the northern Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm.
The terrorists attacked the officers in an alleyway, coming from the direction of the Temple Mount and fled back there as other officers gave chase. The police then opened fire, shooting the terrorists dead inside the complex.
It was not immediately known how the terrorists brought the weapons used in the attack — two Carlo-style submachine guns, a pistol and a knife — into the holy site. Muslim visitors to the Temple Mount complex go through a less rigorous security check than non-Muslim visitors who enter through the Mughrabi Bridge.
Jerusalem Police chief Yoram Halevi said Friday that officers were sweeping the Temple Mount, with the help of the Waqf, to look for further weapons and that police would make their recommendations on when to reopen the site to the government once that operation ends.
The Jordanian statement, issued by Jordanian Minister for Media Affairs Muhammad al Momani, called on the Israeli government to avoid taking actions that change the “historical situation” at the complex and reopen it to worshipers.
“The Jordanian government opposes any harm against Muslims in carrying out their religious worship in their holy places, freely and with no obstacles,” the statement said.
“Jordan has used and will use all tools, diplomatic and legal, in order to halt any attempt to alter the legal and historical status quo in Jerusalem,” Momani said in the statement.
Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said earlier while standing outside the Old City in Jerusalem, that the terrorists who carried out the attack “violated the holy place” and that Israel remained committed to defending holy sites regardless of religion holds them sacred.