Israel PM talks with security chiefs on Jerusalem tensions

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Israel PM talks with security chiefs on Jerusalem tensions
Israel PM talks with security chiefs on Jerusalem tensions

JERUSALEM (AP) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone Wednesday with Israel’s security chiefs as tensions mounted over a contested Jerusalem shrine where Muslims called for mass protests.

Conflicts over the walled holy site, revered by Muslims and Jews, have repeatedly triggered Israeli-Palestinian confrontations.

The latest escalation began last week when three Palestinian gunmen launched an attack from there, killing two Israeli policemen at one of the gates to the Muslim-administered compound.

In response, Israel began installing metal detectors, a move Muslim religious leaders and Palestinian politicians alleged is part of an Israeli attempt to expand control at the site.

Israel has denied such allegations, saying metal detectors are routine security devices used at holy sites around the world.

In recent days, growing numbers of Muslim worshippers have performed prayers in the streets rather than pass through metal detectors. On the sidelines, Palestinian stone-throwers have clashed with Israeli police firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

Both sides have been digging in, amid concerns about a larger-scale confrontation on Friday, the highlight of the Muslim holy week. The site – known as the Temple Mount to Jews and Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, to Muslims – is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On Wednesday, senior Muslim clerics called on worshippers not to pray at smaller neighborhood mosques in Jerusalem and instead to converge on the walled compound, home to the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa mosques, for Friday prayers.

Ikrema Sabri, the prayer leader at Al Aqsa, said the faithful should pray in the streets rather than pass through metal detectors to reach the shrine.

The appeal was intended to increase the potential size of the crowd praying in the streets near the shrine Friday. Typically, tens of thousands of worshippers pray at the compound every Friday.

Netanyahu was in Hungary on Wednesday, but spoke to his security chiefs by phone to hear their assessments and recommendations, according to a statement by his office.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is in China, is returning to the West Bank to deal with the crisis, his office said in a statement.

In the meantime, Abbas is in touch with Arab and international leaders to try to “prevent a deterioration of the situation,” it said.

Jordan, which serves as Muslim custodian of the site, has also been involved in trying to defuse the situation.

The Jerusalem shrine has been the scene of repeated confrontations, but last week’s shooting attack was rare because it was launched from inside the compound.

After the shooting, Israel closed the site for two days for searches. It was only the third time it closed the site since capturing it, along with east Jerusalem and other territories, in the 1967 Mideast war.

The closure drew wide condemnation from the Muslim world. Israel began opening the site gradually on Sunday.

Jews revere the 37-acre raised platform as the site of their biblical Temples. It is the holiest site in Judaism and the nearby Western Wall, a remnant of one of the Temples, is the holiest place where Jews can pray.

Muslims believe the hilltop marks the spot from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. It is Islam’s third-holiest site after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

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Associated Press writer Karin Laub in the West Bank contributed to this report.

Israeli police officers detain a Palestinian man outside the Lion’s Gate, following an appeal from clerics to pray in the streets instead of the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, in Jerusalem’s Old City, Wednesday, July 19, 2017. A dispute over metal detectors has escalated into a new showdown between Israel and the Muslim world over the contested Jerusalem shrine that has been at the center of violent confrontations in the past. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Palestinian Muslims pray outside the Lion’s Gate following an appeal from clerics to pray in the streets instead of the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, in Jerusalem’s Old City, Wednesday, July 19, 2017. A dispute over metal detectors has escalated into a new showdown between Israel and the Muslim world over the contested Jerusalem shrine that has been at the center of violent confrontations in the past. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
A Palestinian man walks towards a metal detector at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, Wednesday, July 19, 2017. A dispute over metal detectors has escalated into a new showdown between Israel and the Muslim world over the contested Jerusalem shrine that has been at the center of violent confrontations in the past. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Israeli border police officers stop a Palestinian woman for a security check as Palestinians gather for prayer at the Lion’s Gate, following an appeal from clerics for Muslims to pray in the streets instead of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, in Jerusalem’s Old City, Wednesday, July 19, 2017. A dispute over metal detectors has escalated into a new showdown between Israel and the Muslim world over the contested Jerusalem shrine that has been at the center of violent confrontations in the past. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Israeli border police officers stand guard as Palestinians gather for prayer at the Lion’s Gate, following an appeal from clerics for Muslims to pray in the streets instead of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, in Jerusalem’s Old City, Wednesday, July 19, 2017. A dispute over metal detectors has escalated into a new showdown between Israel and the Muslim world over the contested Jerusalem shrine that has been at the center of violent confrontations in the past. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
A four-picture combo shows Israeli police officers clashing with Palestinians outside the Lion’s Gate, following an appeal from clerics for Muslims to pray in the streets instead of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, in Jerusalem’s Old City, Wednesday, July 19, 2017. A dispute over metal detectors has escalated into a new showdown between Israel and the Muslim world over the contested Jerusalem shrine that has been at the center of violent confrontations in the past. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Israeli police officers clash with Palestinians outside the Lion’s Gate, following an appeal from clerics to pray in the streets instead of the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, in Jerusalem’s Old City, Wednesday, July 19, 2017. A dispute over metal detectors has escalated into a new showdown between Israel and the Muslim world over the contested Jerusalem shrine that has been at the center of violent confrontations in the past. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Israeli police officers clash with Palestinians outside the Lion’s Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, Wednesday, July 19, 2017. A dispute over metal detectors has escalated into a new showdown between Israel and the Muslim world over a contested Jerusalem shrine that has been at the center of violent confrontations in the past. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Israeli police officers clash with Palestinians outside the Lion’s Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, Wednesday, July 19, 2017. A dispute over metal detectors has escalated into a new showdown between Israel and the Muslim world over a contested Jerusalem shrine that has been at the center of violent confrontations in the past. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Israeli police officers clash with Palestinians outside the Lion’s Gate, following an appeal from clerics to pray in the streets instead of the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, in Jerusalem’s Old City, Wednesday, July 19, 2017. A dispute over metal detectors has escalated into a new showdown between Israel and the Muslim world over the contested Jerusalem shrine that has been at the center of violent confrontations in the past. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Israeli border police officers stand guard as Palestinian women gather for prayer outside the Lion’s Gate following an appeal from clerics to pray in the streets instead of the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, in Jerusalem’s Old City, Wednesday, July 19, 2017. A dispute over metal detectors has escalated into a new showdown between Israel and the Muslim world over the contested Jerusalem shrine that has been at the center of violent confrontations in the past. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Israeli police officers detain a Palestinian man outside the Lion’s Gate, following an appeal from clerics to pray in the streets instead of the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, in Jerusalem’s Old City, Wednesday, July 19, 2017. A dispute over metal detectors has escalated into a new showdown between Israel and the Muslim world over the contested Jerusalem shrine that has been at the center of violent confrontations in the past. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Palestinian Muslims pray outside the Lion’s Gate following an appeal from clerics to pray in the streets instead of the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, in Jerusalem’s Old City, Wednesday, July 19, 2017. A dispute over metal detectors has escalated into a new showdown between Israel and the Muslim world over the contested Jerusalem shrine that has been at the center of violent confrontations in the past. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
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