Israel installs new security cameras at holy site as tensions flare in Jerusalem

Israel's security Cabinet met Sunday to review a decision to install metal detectors at a contested Jerusalem holy site, following a week of escalating tensions with the Muslim world, mass prayer protests and Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Officials indicate they will consider alternatives to new metal detectors that have set off violence

Palestinians burn mock metal detectors during a demonstration in Bethlehem, Sunday. Israel's minister of public security said Sunday that controversial metal detectors set at the entrance to a major Jerusalem shrine could be removed if police have another way of ensuring security there. (Mahmoud Illean/Associated Press)

Israel's security Cabinet met Sunday to review a decision to install metal detectors at a contested Jerusalem holy site, following a week of escalating tensions with the Muslim world, mass prayer protests and Israeli-Palestinian violence.

The ministers met amid mounting controversy at home, with some critics saying the government had acted without sufficiently considering the repercussions of introducing new security measures at Jerusalem's most sensitive shrine. 

Israel set up new security cameras Sunday at the entrance to the site — known to Jews as Temple Mount and to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary or al-Haram al-Sharif — as officials consider alternatives to recently installed metal detectors that set off a weekend of violence and prompted the Palestinian president to declare a severing of ties.

An Israeli police officer checks the identification of a Muslim religious man on a main road leading to the Lion's Gate near the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, Sunday. Israel installed new security cameras at the entrance to a sensitive Jerusalem holy site that's been the centre of recent violent conflicts. (Ariel Schalit/Associated Press)

Israel set up the metal detectors last week after Arab-Israeli gunmen opened fire from the shrine, killing two Israeli policemen.

It said they were a necessary measure to prevent more attacks and were deployed routinely at holy sites around the world. Muslims religious leaders alleged Israel was trying to expand its control at the Muslim-administered site and launched mass prayer protests.

Detectors could be removed

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, an outspoken supporter of the security measures, on Sunday for the first time raised the possibility that the metal detectors might be removed, provided an alternative is found.

He said security measures at the 15-hectare esplanade, with eight entry gates for Muslim worshippers, were insufficient before the shooting attack.

"We need different security measures and means for checking (those entering) there," he told Israel TV's Channel 2.

Erdan said it is "certainly possible that the metal detectors will be removed" if police recommend a different security program, but added that he is currently "not aware of such a program."

Israel installed the cameras Sunday as officials began indicating they are considering 'alternatives' to the metal detectors at the contested shrine that set off a weekend of violence and raised tensions in the region. (Mahmoud Illean/Associated Press)

On Friday, several thousand Palestinians clashed with Israeli security forces in the West Bank and in Jerusalem after noon prayers — the centrepiece of the Muslim religious week.

Three Palestinians were killed and several dozen wounded after protesters burned tires and threw stones and firecrackers. Israeli troops responded with live rounds, rubber bullets and tear gas.

Later Friday, a Palestinian — who his family said was upset over Israeli policies at the holy site — stabbed to death three members of an Israeli family in their home in a West Bank settlement.

Freezing ties

Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced he is freezing ties with Israel on "all levels" until the metal detectors are removed.

On Sunday, Abbas said this suspension also meant a halt in security co-ordination between his forces in the West Bank and Israeli troops.

Such co-ordination, largely aimed at a common foe, the Islamic militant Hamas, had been a constant in frequently hostile Israeli-Palestinian relations. Ending those ties could quickly escalate tensions.

The official Palestinian news agency Wafa quoted Abbas as saying that "when we made these decisions, we took a firm and decisive stance, especially with regard to security co-ordination."

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the security ties are more beneficial to the Palestinians and that Israel can manage without them. "We are not going to chase after them," Lieberman told the YNet news site,

Open to alternatives

Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, who heads the Israeli defence body for Palestinian civilian affairs, said Israel was open to alternatives to lower the tensions.

"The only thing we want is to ensure no one can enter with weapons again and carry out another attack," he said. "We're willing to examine alternatives to the metal detectors as long as the solution of alternative ensures the prevention of the next attack."

However, the top Muslim cleric of Jerusalem, Mohammed Hussein, told the Voice of Palestine radio station he demands a complete return to procedures that were in place before the initial attack at the shrine.

In a statement Sunday, the Islamic institutions in Jerusalem, of which he is a part, said they "affirm the categorical rejection of the electronic gates and all the measures of occupation."

Disputes over the shrine, revered by Muslims and Jews, have set off major rounds of Israeli-Palestinian confrontations in the past.

An injured Palestinian protester is taken to an ambulance Saturday during clashes with Israeli soldiers after troops searched and measured the family house of Omar al-Abed, 20, identified by the Israeli army as the assailant of Friday's stabbing attack at the Israeli settlement of Halamish. (Nasser Nasser/Associated Press)

Late Friday night, a 20-year-old Palestinian identified as Omar al-Abed jumped over the fence of the Halamish settlement near Ramallah and entered a home, surprising a family that was celebrating a new grandchild during their traditional Sabbath dinner. He stabbed to death Yosef Salomon, 70, and his adult children, 46-year-old Chaya and 35-year-old Elad, while his daughter-in-law escaped to a separate room to shelter her young children.

Stabbing attack called a 'massacre'

A neighbour, an off-duty soldier, heard the screams, rushed to the home and opened fire, wounding the attacker. TV footage showed the floor tiles drenched in blood, and officials called it a "massacre."

"This has nothing to do with metal detectors. There is no justification for murdering a grandfather at a party to celebrate the birth of his new grandson," said Oded Revivi, the chief foreign envoy of the Yesha settlers' council.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the attack as "an act of terror, carried out by an animal who was incited with unfathomable hatred."

At his weekly Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu vowed the killer's home would be demolished swiftly in retribution and those who incited and glorified his act would be dealt with.

A Palestinian protester stands in tear gas during clashes near the Qalandia checkpoint between Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah Sunday. (Nasser Shiyoukhi/Associated Press)

"Since the beginning of the events I've conducted a series of meetings and evaluations with the all the security officials, including those on the ground. We receive updates on the ground from them and recommendations on how to act and we decide accordingly," he said.

Israel has repeatedly accused the Palestinian Authority of permitting anti-Israeli incitement in the public Palestinian discourse and vowed to act against it. The Palestinians reject the allegations, saying Israel's 50-year-old occupation of lands sought for a Palestinian state is at the root of widespread Palestinian anger and helps drive violence.

A top Abbas adviser said he was holding consultations with various countries, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morocco, about the crisis.