Security cooperation with Israel to resume ‘gradually,’ PA official says

Security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will gradually increase as long as Muslim access to the Temple Mount remains unrestricted, a senior Palestinian official told The Times of Israel on Saturday.

The official praised Israel for removing security restrictions imposed at the Temple Mount in the wake of a deadly terror attack at the site earlier this month. He also praised the Shin Bet Security service and the IDF for their handling of the mounting tensions surrounding the Jerusalem holy site, and expressed hope the two sides were on the way to resuming working ties.

Last week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas suspended security coordination with Israel to protest the installation of metal detectors at entrances to the site, a move that sparked widespread protests and condemnation from the Muslim world.

The security cooperation between Israel and the PA, in place for years despite near-frozen diplomatic ties, is seen as critical for both Israel and Abbas’s Fatah faction to keep a lid on violence in the West Bank, particularly from the Hamas terror group.

Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli security forces near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, on July 24, 2017. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

On Saturday, The Times of Israel learned the PA has continued to make arrests of Hamas members in the West Bank, despite the freeze in cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces.

A Fatah official confirmed the arrests of Hamas members was ongoing, but said apart from “critical matters,” security coordination with Israel had not yet resumed.

The PA’s head of preventative security in the West Bank, Ziyad Hab al-Rih, also confirmed the arrests to The Times of Israel, saying the Hamas operatives were planning attacks in an effort to escalate tensions between Israel and Palestinians.

Rih said a number of Hamas activists were arrested this week in Qalqilya, Tulkarem, Ramallah and at Hebron’s Polytechnic University.

Israeli-Palestinian tensions have been high since three Israeli Arab gunmen killed two police officers at the Temple Mount compound on July 14 with guns they had smuggled into the site, prompting Israel to install security devices at entrances to the sensitive holy compound, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock sanctuary.

Border police officers guard near metal detectors placed outside the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City, July 16, 2017 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The move sparked some of the worst street clashes in years, and threatened to draw Israel into conflict with other Arab and Muslim nations. Six Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli security forces over the last two weeks, and three members of an Israeli family were murdered by a Palestinian terrorist in the settlement of Halamish last Friday night.

The new security measures triggered a boycott by Muslim worshipers who threatened not to return to the site until all the new measures were removed.

On Thursday, Israel rolled back all the security steps, including metal detectors, railings and scaffolding for cameras, at entrances to the Temple Mount, and Muslim prayer resumed later that day.

Tens of thousands of Muslim worshippers returned to the Temple Mount on Friday for prayers, with Israel barring men aged under 50. Despite several low-level clashes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, Friday’s prayers ended without incident.

Palestinian Muslim worshipers attend the first Friday prayers of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan outside the Dome of the Rock at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on June 2, 2017. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)

The fate of the Temple Mount is an emotional issue at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even the smallest perceived change to delicate arrangements pertaining to the site sparks tensions.

Jews revere the hilltop compound as the Temple Mount, site of the two Jewish biblical temples. It is the holiest site in Judaism, and the nearby Western Wall, a remnant of one of the temples, is the holiest place where Jews can pray.

But the walled compound is also home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, which is Islam’s third-holiest site after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. Muslims believe the site marks the spot where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.

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