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Removal Of Metal Detectors At Holy Site Do Little To Quell Palestinian Protests


Israel has dismantled the metal detectors at the Jerusalem hill top that is revered by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and by Jews as the Temple Mount. The move was meant to ease tensions with Palestinians. But plans for a new security system have led to more protests. NPR's Daniel Estrin reports from Jerusalem that the dispute is less about hardware and more about control.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Overnight, while it was still dark, Israeli work crews dismantled metal detectors and cameras at the holy site.

YOAV GALANT: (Foreign language spoken).

ESTRIN: Israeli government minister Yoav Galant told Israeli Army Radio that Israel was correcting a mistake. It had installed metal detectors at the entrances to the mosque compound after gunmen killed two Israeli police there. But he said the devices became a symbol that instigated protests and more violence. Still, their removal didn't quell protests.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in foreign language).

ESTRIN: These Palestinian women chanted no to cameras. Israel says over the next six months, it will be replacing the metal detectors with what it calls smart checks using advanced technology. Officials have not offered details, but Israeli media report that police may use special cameras that can tell whether someone is carrying a suspicious object.

Abeer Zayad, a devout Muslim, objects.

ABEER ZAYAD: The problem is not only the cameras, it's the issue of who owns the place.

ESTRIN: Jordan oversees Muslim religious affairs at the hill top site. Muslims believe their prophet Muhammad paid a visit to heaven from there. And Jews revere the site as where ancient Jewish temples once stood. There's been a growing movement of devout Jews who want the right to pray there and who visit the site daily under police protection.

Palestinians like Zayad fear Israeli authorities want control of the site, using security cameras as a pretext.

ZAYAD: If they want the place to be safe, it's very easy, does not cost them one nickel. Just take your police outside of the mosque. Everything inside the mosque will be safe.

ESTRIN: If this story of security cameras at the holy site sounds like deja vu, it is. It was just two years ago that there was a wave of Palestinian stabbings amid accusations that Israel was changing the rules of access to the holy site. Then U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry helped broker a plan between Israel and Jordan to install video cameras so all sides could monitor the site.

But Palestinians protested the cameras, and the plan was scrapped. This month's flare up started when the police were killed. And since then, three Palestinians have died during clashes with police and a Palestinian killed three Israelis in a West Bank settlement. And tensions remain high.

An Israeli security guard killed two Jordanians at the Israeli embassy compound in Amman when one of them stabbed him. Jordan allowed embassy staff to leave last night.

AZZAM KHATIB: (Foreign language spoken).

ESTRIN: Azzam Khatib is one of the Muslim religious leaders who runs the holy site. And he's calling on Muslims to continue their sit-in protests. The crowds often build into the thousands and frequently involve clashes with police. Today, a poll of Israelis suggests that most already think Israel folded when it removed the metal detectors.

The UN's Mideast envoy warned the Security Council today that the crisis in Jerusalem is resonating across the Mideast and could drag Israel and the Palestinians into what he called a vortex of violence. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.