Police to bar masses from Temple Mt.
Acting to defuse renewed tension at Israel's most sensitive site, Jerusalem
police announced Tuesday
that they would bar a massive Jewish pilgrimage to the Temple Mount by a group of ultra-nationalists opposed to the planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
Police said that they had notified Islamic Wakf officials of their stance,
and that the bitterly
contested holy site would only be open to regular visits of smaller groups, and individuals, all of whom undergo a security screening check before entry.
Earlier this month, several extremist Rabbis, including Yisrael Ariel and Yosef Elboim, were filmed as they discussed plans to bring "thousands" of people to the mount next month in what was to be the first of a series of protest on Judaism's holiest site against the planned pullout from Gaza.
The campaign, which was to be launched on April 10 to coincide with the eve of the Hebrew month of Nissan, had planned to bring up to 10,000 people to the Mount at one time, in an effort to occupy police and army, and take them away from Gaza.
A campaign organizer, David Ha'Ivri, said Tuesday that contacts were "ongoing" with police to make the Temple Mount "more accessible" to Jewish visitors.
In their announcement, police said that they would permit no more than several dozen people at a time from entering the holy site during normal morning visiting hours, and would act against anyone who tried to break the law.
Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said Tuesday that police had neither received nor approved any requests for the publicized event, and that in any case police would nor permit anything beyond several dozen people from entering the site at one time in keeping with standard procedure.
In an unusual move, police revealed that they had assured east Jerusalem
based Palestinian religious
officials of their stance in the wake of their concern that Jewish extremists would try to create a provocation at the site.
According to decades-old regulation at the site, Israel maintains overall
security control at the
Temple Mount, while the Wakf, or Islamic Trust, is in charge of the day-to-day maintenance of the compound.
Over the last six months, police and security officials have repeatedly warned of attempts to attack the super-sensitive Jerusalem holy site as a way of sabotaging the planned summer pullout from Gaza.
The head of the domestic Shin Bet security service Avi Dichter has said that coupled with the possibility of an assassination attempt on the life of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon the threat of an attack by Jewish extremists on the Temple Mount is of the highest concern among security officials, as Israel prepares to withdraw from Gaza.
In light of the threats, Jerusalem police chief Ilan Franco recently ordered more patrols in and around the compound. Some 700 officers, including regular police, paramilitary border troops and undercover forces, are regularly assigned to the Old City.
Plans to attack a mosque on the mount are not unprecedented.
Two decades ago, the Shin Bet caught a group of Jewish extremists who had amassed large amounts of army explosives intending to blow up the Dome of the Rock.
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