Israel court orders closure of building at tense Jerusalem holy site

The Golden Gate at the Al Aqsa Mosque Compound has been a source of tension for weeks

Palestinian protesters gather around an entrance to the Golden Gate or Gate of Mercy inside the Al Aqsa Mosque's compound in Jerusalem's Old City on March 15, 2019. AFP
Palestinian protesters gather around an entrance to the Golden Gate or Gate of Mercy inside the Al Aqsa Mosque's compound in Jerusalem's Old City on March 15, 2019. AFP

An Israeli court on Sunday ordered the temporary closure of a side building at a highly sensitive Jerusalem holy site that has been the source of tensions in recent weeks.

The Jerusalem magistrates court said the building known as the Golden Gate at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, should be closed while the case continues.

The site's administrator, the Waqf religious organisation, was given 60 days to respond to the court case involving the building.

Israeli police have called for the building to be closed.

The Waqf, or Islamic trust, is Palestinian-Jordanian and remains in control of the contested holy site despite Israel occupying East Jerusalem since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

Palestinians accuse Israel of trying to change the status quo at the holy site. Israeli actions at the site have sparked some of the biggest spirals of violence in the region. In 2015, perceived changes to the situation there sparked a wave of stabbings against Israelis. In 2000, a visit to the site where Jews cannot pray by then opposition leader Ariel Sharon led to the Second Palestinian Intifada, or uprising.

There are believed to be discussions ongoing between Israel and Jordan, the custodian of the holy site, over the status of the building.

There have in recent weeks been scuffles between Palestinian worshippers and Israeli police at the site in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem over the use of the side building.

Palestinian worshippers have been entering the site and praying there despite an Israeli order that it should stay closed.

Israel shut access to the Golden Gate in 2003 during the second Palestinian Intifada over alleged militant activity there.

Palestinian officials argue that the organisation that prompted the ban no longer exists and there is no reason for it to remain closed.

The larger compound is the third-holiest site in Islam and a focus of Palestinian aspirations for statehood.

Jews are allowed to visit but cannot pray there and it is a frequent scene of tension.

Israeli officials are concerned tensions at the site could boil over and set off wider clashes ahead of April 9 Israeli elections.

The site has served as a rallying cry for Palestinians.

The Waqf said in a statement on Saturday that it wants to carry out renovations at the building, but keep it open during that time for Palestinians who wish to pray there.

It alleged that far-right Israelis were seeking to take over the side building, but Israeli authorities say they are committed to enforcing the current rules in place at the site that prevent such moves.

Meanwhile, an Israeli was killed on Sunday in stabbing and shooting attacks believed to have been carried out by a Palestinian assailant at the entrance of an illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank.

Eli Bin, the head of Israeli ambulance service Magen David Adom, said Sunday's attacks were at the entrance to the Ariel settlement, south-west of the Palestinian city of Nablus.

The incident began when a Palestinian stabbed an Israeli soldier at an intersection near the Jewish settlement of Ariel and grabbed his assault rifle, the spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus, said on a conference call with journalists.

The assailant used the weapon to fire at three vehicles, hitting a civilian and then hijacking a car, which he drove to another junction nearby where he shot a second soldier before continuing on to a nearby Palestinian village.

Hamas, the movement that runs the Gaza Strip, welcomed the attack, but did not claim responsibility for it.

It called the incident a response to Israeli "crimes," including its actions at Jerusalem's Al Aqsa mosque compound.

Updated: March 17, 2019 06:27 PM


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