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Israel Dismantles Controversial Metal Detectors At Jerusalem Holy Site

Workers dismantle metal detectors early Tuesday outside Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City.
Mahmoud Illean
Workers dismantle metal detectors early Tuesday outside Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City.

Updated 10:05 p.m. ET

Israel has removed controversial metal detectors at the entrance to a holy site in Jerusalem, aiming to ease tension after days of protests.

But it remains to be seen whether Muslim worshippers will accept the security measures that Israel plans to implement in their place. The metal detectors were installed at the Muslim-administered site after several Israeli Arabs shot dead two Israeli police officers there.

Israel had said the metal detectors were necessary for security, while Muslims saw them as an attempt by Israel to seize control of the site. Holy to both Islam and Judaism, it is called the Noble Sanctuary by Muslims and the Temple Mount by Jews.

The White House issued a statement saying, "The United States applauds the efforts of Israel to maintain security while reducing tensions in the region."

NPR's Daniel Estrin, reporting from one of the entrances to the site, tells our Newscast unit that "the metal detectors have been removed, which is what Muslim leaders were calling for. But worshippers are still praying outside the holy site and refusing to enter."

Since the metal detectors were installed, Muslim worshippers have gathered to pray outside the site in order to avoid passing through them.

Daniel adds that "Muslim leaders say they're reviewing the new Israeli decision to replace the metal detectors with what Israel calls advanced technology, reportedly cameras that will screen worshippers entering the holy site."

The Muslim body that administers the site "called on worshippers to continue to boycott the site until it advised otherwise," according to the BBC.

"It's not about technology, it's about control," an unnamed resident of Jerusalem was quoted as saying by the Palestinian Ma'an news agency. "It's about who controls the gate of the mosque, which means who controls the mosque."

The new security measures were approved by Israel's security Cabinet at a late-night meeting, as The Two-Way reported, after "the recommendations by all of the country's security services to use other kinds of technology." The government says they will be implemented in less than six months, and plans to beef up police presence at the site in the meantime.

Israel reached the decision to dismantle the metal detectors shortly after an end to a diplomatic standoff with Jordan, which administers the site, over a violent incident at a building housing Israeli Embassy staff in Jordan's capital Amman. The BBC explains:

"Jordanian authorities wanted to question an Israeli security guard who Israel said shot dead a Jordanian who had attacked him with a screwdriver in a residence next to the embassy. A second Jordanian who died was inadvertently killed by the gunfire, Israel said.

"Israel said the guard had diplomatic immunity and both he and all the staff were confined to the embassy compound amid attempts to find a solution.

"In a phone call on Monday night, Jordan's King Abdullah and [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu discussed the crisis surrounding the holy site and the incident at the embassy. The king called on Mr Netanyahu to remove the metal detectors. At around the same time, it was announced that the embassy staff had returned to Israel."

As we reported, a spokesman for Netanyahu denied any relationship between the diplomatic standoff and the metal detectors.

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Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.