Israel has removed the controversial metal detectors from entrances to the sensitive compound that is home to the al-Aqsa mosque.
The move was announced late on Monday night by the office of the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and is designed to end the crisis over the holy site. Days of violent clashes have claimed seven lives.
The removal of the detectors on Tuesday appeared to be part of a deal that saw the repatriation of Israeli diplomats from Jordan, including an embassy security guard who had been involved in a fatal shooting of two Jordanians on Sunday night.
The brief statement said the Israeli security cabinet – which met on Monday evening – had “accepted the suggestion of all of the security bodies to incorporate security measures based on advanced technologies (‘smart checks’) and other measures instead of metal detectors in order to ensure the security of visitors and worshippers in the Old City and on the Temple Mount”.
The statement added that under the plan Israeli police would “reinforce” their presence around the holy site. But it did not say when the metal detectors would be removed or what would replace them. Israeli media earlier reported that high-resolution cameras capable of detecting hidden objects would be the alternative.
Signs of attempts to resolve the crisis came as Jordan’s King Abdullah spoke over the phone with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, about the metal detectors.
The announcement followed a warning from the UN’s Middle East emissary about the dangers of allowing the crisis over the religious site to continue until prayers on Friday without a solution.
“It is extremely important that a solution to the current crisis be found by Friday this week,” Nickolay Mladenov commented after briefing the UN security council, which met behind closed doors on Monday.
“The dangers on the ground will escalate if we go through another cycle of Friday prayer without a resolution to this current crisis,” he added, warning events in east Jerusalem were not “localised” but “affect millions, if not billions of people around the world”.
It was unclear whether the move would be sufficient to end the violence around the issue, not least following recent statements by Muslim religious officials – including the mufti of Jerusalem – that they would only accept a return to the arrangements for access to the site that was in place before a 14 July shooting of two Israeli policemen by three Israeli Arab gunmen who had smuggled weapons on to the site.
Just before the announcement of the removal of the metal detectors, the Palestinian ambassador to the UN insisted street protests would continue until metal detectors and all other obstacles were taken away. Riyad Mansour said the Palestinians condemned in the strongest terms the closing of the mosque for the first time since 1969 and demanded a return of the status quo.
Muslim religious leaders allege Israel is trying to expand its control at the site – revered by both Muslims and Jews – by installing the metal detectors under the guise of security, a claim Israel denies.
There had been increasing criticism of the way in which the metal detectors were installed, without consultation with the waqf, the Muslim religious institution that administers the site, and reportedly over the objections of senior Israeli security officials who had warned of the risk of bloodshed.
The announcement came shortly after the evacuation of all Israeli diplomats from the embassy in the Jordanian capital, Amman, following an incident in which an Israeli security guard shot two Jordanians including a teenager who had allegedly stabbed him with a screwdriver.
The diplomats, including Israel’s ambassador to Jordan, Einat Schlain, crossed the Allenby bridge border in a convoy, arriving back in Israel at around 11 pm.
Among those repatriated were the security guards who Jordan had originally said it wanted to retain for questioning over the incident.
A Jordanian news site linked to the kingdom’s military said investigators had decided the deadly altercation at the Israeli embassy compound was not politically motivated and had determined the 17-year-old had attacked the guard with a screwdriver over a dispute about a furniture delivery.
Under an agreement negotiated by the head of Israel’s domestic security service, who had been sent to Amman to negotiate, Israel agreed that Jordanian police could hear the guard’s description of the incident in the presence of Israeli diplomats.
The security guard involved in the incident had been holed up in the fortress-like embassy along with the ambassador and other staff while Netanyahu sent an envoy to try to defuse the stand-off.
Jordan’s demand to question the security guard had come amid reports in Jordanian media that far from attacking the Israeli guard, the 16-year-old, Mohammad al Juwada, who was killed along with a bystander, had been shot during an argument.
“He shot my son in the chest with two bullets, he killed him in cold blood,” Juwada’s father Zakaria told local media. “We want to know and understand what happened, otherwise we will not agree to accept his body.”
Commenting on the return of the diplomats, Netanyahu’s office said it was made possible “thanks to close cooperation which was held in the past day between Israel and Jordan”.
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