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Police suspend non-Muslim visits to Temple Mount

Jerusalem police on Wednesday abruptly suspended the limited visits of non-Muslims to Jerusalem's Temple Mount, just weeks after the site was partially reopened to Jewish and Christian visitors for the first time in nearly three years, police said.

Jerusalem police spokeswoman Sigal Toledano said Wednesday that the decision to again close off Judaism's holiest site was made because of "operational considerations," and declined to say when the visits would be renewed.

Last month, police announced that they had begun permitting some small groups of Jewish and Christian tourists as well as Israelis to reenter the site, nearly three years after it was closed off to non-Muslims.

In the last several weeks since publication that the bitterly contested holy site had been partially reopened to small groups of Jewish and Christian visitors, officials from the Islamic Wakf, which maintains the day to day maintenance at the area, have expressed growing opposition to the reentry of the visitors, a move which was taken without their consent or approval.

The heads of the Wakf had held an emergency stormy meeting last week to discuss the reopening of the site, with some officials --urged on by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat -- demanding that the gates to the Temple Mount be closed to prevent Jews from entering the compound

On Thursday night, for the second time in three weeks, Jerusalem police announced that they were imposing restrictions on Muslim entry to Friday prayers at the Temple Mount to men over the age of forty, after receiving intelligence alerts over possible violence at the bitterly contested site.

Fearing renewed Palestinian violence, police have barred non-Muslims from entering the Temple Mount since Ariel Sharon's controversial visit in September 2000. The 33 months since has been the longest period Judaism's holiest site has been closed to Jews and Christians since the unification of Jerusalem in 1967. In recent days, Israeli security officials grew concerned over the renewal of violence at the site, leading to its renewed closure.

Last week, in a chorus of criticism lead by the Palestinian leader. Arafat, warned of "grave consequences" if Israel continues to allow Jews to visit the Temple Mount, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas called the partial reopening of the site "provocative," and Arab League Secretary-general Amr Moussa called the developments "very dangerous" and "an insult to Muslims everywhere."

Surprisingly, Jerusalem's new haredi mayor, Uri Lupolianski, has added his voice to those of the Arab officials against the reopening of the site to Jews.

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