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Jerusalem police open Temple Mount to open to non-Muslims

By Jonathan Lis and Baruch Kra, Haaretz Correspondents

Jerusalem police reopened the Temple Mount to Jewish and Christian visitors on Wednesday, as ordered by Public Security Minister Tzachi Hanegbi.

The site will be open to visitors every day between 9 and 11 A.M.

Jerusalem police chief Mickey Levy refused to confirm whether a deal had been reached with the Waqf, and said that the decision was taken before Tuesday's suicide bombing.

The rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinowitz said that the police reached an understanding with the Waqf Muslim religious trust that oversees the site before opening it to Jewish visitors. But the Waqf director and Jerusalem's Mufti denied that the move was coordinated with them.

Over 150 Jewish worshippers visited the site on Wednesday morning. Police authorized almost everyone who wished to enter the site to do so, but banned journalists and photographers from ascending Mount.

On Tuesday, Hanegbi reiterated his determination to reopen the holy site to non-Moslems. "The goal is that this week will be the last week in which Jews and Christians, or anyone who is not Muslim, is prevented from entering the Temple Mount," the minister said.

Former Shas chairman Aryeh Deri on Wednesday criticized the opening of Temple Mount to Jews, including secular Jews, saying Hanegbi's decision would cause unnecessary tensions and bloodshed.

"We are not aloud to get there. A man who doesn't keep the Shabbat, who doesn't follow the religious commandments, suddenly the [going to the] Temple Mount is the only commandment he wants to follow. He must consult with rabbis first. I don't know any rabbis who say it is allowed to ascend Temple Mount," Deri told Army Radio.

The Temple Mount was closed to non-Muslims on the orders of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, after riots erupted between police and Muslim worshipers the day after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited the site in September 2000.

In response to Public Security Ministry spokesman Yehoshua Bauer's reiteration of Hanegbi's statement, Mufti Ikrima Sabri, Jerusalem's top Muslim cleric, said that only the Waqf had the authority to allow non-Muslim visitors onto the site.

"We in the Waqf are studying the issue of opening the mosque to tourists, but such statements delay taking a decision," Sabri said.

At the beginning of June, the police, on orders from the Israeli political echelon, began allowing groups of visitors onto the Temple Mount. However, a few weeks ago, the police decided to close the site again.