(CNSNews.com) – In what has become a familiar ritual, Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah organization called for a “day of rage” Wednesday over the perceived desecration of Islam’s third-holiest site. The anger is not in reaction to a deadly terror attack at the revered site in Jerusalem, however, but to but Israel’s response – the installation of metal detectors designed to prevent a recurrence.
Denouncing what it called Israeli “terrorist procedures,” Fatah declared Wednesday a “day of rage,” and said Muslim Friday prayers this week will be held in public squares across the P.A.-controlled areas to condemn Israel.
The new restrictions were put in place after Israel reopened the al-Aqsa mosque compound after a rare two-day closure, following the fatal shooting Friday of two Israeli police officers. The three assailants, Arab citizens of Israel who had smuggled guns into the mosque complex, were subsequently shot dead.
During the closure Israeli police said they discovered a number of weapons concealed in the area, including knives, slingshots and stun grenades.
PLO executive member Hanan Ashrawi called the installation of metal detectors and security cameras “a flagrant violation of the rights and freedoms of Palestinian Muslim worshippers,”
“Such intrusive and dehumanizing practices aim to provide Israel with carte blanche to exercise security control over the holy sites of Jerusalem,” she charged in a 513-word statement that said nothing about Friday’s fatal shooting at the sanctuary.
Ashrawi accused Israel of deliberately creating a situation of violence by provoking Palestinians and “the entire Muslim world.”
“If Israel is not made to cease and desist from its inhuman and unlawful activities, its actions will provoke confrontations with serious ramifications throughout the region and beyond,” she warned.
The Palestinian news agency Ma’an quoted Fatah central committee member Jamal Muheisin as saying Israel was trying to divide the al-Aqsa compound between Muslims and Jews – echoing similar allegations from other Palestinian officials.
Since Israel ended Jordanian occupation of the area during the 1967 Six Day War, it has allowed a Jordanian Islamic trust, the Waqf, to administer the hilltop compound known as the Temple Mount – the holiest site in Judaism – although Israel maintains overall sovereignty.
Non-Muslims are allowed to visit at designated times, but due to Muslim objections may not openly pray there. The most contested piece of territory in the Middle East has long been a flashpoint, with Arab rioters on occasion throwing stones at Jews praying at the Western Wall below.
The installation of metal detectors at the compound’s entrance gates is the latest incident to be cited by Palestinians and their supporters in alleging that Israel is changing the “status quo” arrangements there.
‘Blatant aggression against the holy sites’
Ratcheting up the tension, a Palestinian shari’a judge in Jerusalem, Wasif al-Bakri, has now declared that it is forbidden (haram) for Muslims to enter the al-Aqsa compound through metal detectors, thereby preparing the ground for accusations that Israel is blocking free worship by Muslims.
Already Palestinians gathering to pray outside compound entrances have clashed with Israeli security forces, with protestors reportedly threatening to “sacrifice our lives for al-Aqsa” and to “die as martyrs.”
Islamic voices further afield are also being heard.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in a statement – which like Ashrawi’s was silent on Friday defilement of the Islamic site by the three gunmen – called Israel’s temporary closure “a crime, a serious precedent, a blatant aggression against the holy sites and an attack on the rights and freedom of Palestinians to practice their religious rites.”
The OIC is organizing a conference in Azerbaijan this week, together with a U.N. body, focused on “the serious aggression against al-Aqsa mosque, the attacks and violations aimed at judaizing al-Quds city [Jerusalem].”
The White House on Friday condemned the shooting in Jerusalem, saying the U.S. was “heartbroken that terrorists brutally gunned down two Israeli police officers.”
Noting that Israel had temporarily closed the site, the White House added that “Israel has assured the world that it has no intention to alter the status of this holy site, a decision which the United States applauds and welcomes.”
Asked Tuesday about the metal detector row, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert reiterated that the U.S. supports “the maintenance of the status quo and expect both sides to fulfill their commitments to that.”
Asked whether it believed Israel has changed the “status quo” by installing the security gear, Nauert demurred, declining to “get into any possible diplomatic conversations.”
Israel has for years faced accusations that it is threatening the Islamic sites, fending off claims that “al-Aqsa is in danger.”
A previous proposal to install 24-hour security cameras at the site, agreed in 2015 between Israel and Jordan with the help of then-Secretary of State John Kerry, never came to fruition due to disagreements over how the plan would operate.
After Ariel Sharon – then Israeli opposition leader, later prime minister – visited the Temple Mount in September 2000, Abbas’ predecessor Yasser Arafat accused him of defiling the Al-Aqsa mosque.
The incident triggered the so-called “al-Aqsa Intifada” or uprising – years of suicide bombings, shootings and other attacks that cost more than 1,000 Israeli lives, while more than 4,000 Palestinians were killed.