They came in the dead of night with heavy equipment to remove controversial metal detectors from outside the gates to the holy sites. It was a sudden climb-down by Israel1 after it stated just 24 hours before that they would stay. The metal detectors had divided Israel’s security establishment, with the Shin Bet security agency and the IDF (Israeli military) arguing they were counter-productive. It seems those voices were part of the reason for the change of tack – but only after days of violent protests. But it is still not clear whether the removal of the magnetometers will defuse the current crisis. Israel says they will be replaced with high-tech cameras equipped with facial recognition.
The Waqf – the Jordanian religious trust that governs the holy esplanade – has put together a committee to look at the new security measures. It wants the area returned to how it was before the metal detectors were installed; if it is not, it claims the “status quo” will have changed and that is unacceptable. The current crisis was triggered when Israel installed the metal detectors after three Israeli Arabs killed two Israeli policemen2 at the Lion’s Gate in the Old City. Israel maintains the measures did not alter the “Status Quo” agreement and were a necessary measure to prevent further attacks. But at the moment the boycott remains in place. Muslim worshippers are still refusing to pass through the gates to the holy sites and are instead praying outside in protest.
A lot depends now on what goes on behind the scenes and whether or not the Waqf can be convinced that what Israel has done, or is doing, is not changing what they consider to be the status quo. And if the boycott is not lifted there will inevitably be further violent clashes. The fundamental problem is the lack of trust between the two sides. Israel claims the Palestinians use al-Aqsa to incite terror . The Palestinians claim Israel exploits the issue of security as a way of consolidating its illegal occupation. The sites are of course of great religious and national importance to both Jews and Muslims. The area is called the Temple Mount by Jews and is the holiest site in Judaism.
Muslims refer to the al-Aqsa compound as the Noble Sanctuary and it is the third holiest site in Islam.
The argument then was never about the metal detectors: the argument was always and still is about sovereignty.
A businesswoman has criticised an airport security guard for rifling through her luggage and having a photograph taken with one of her live lobsters. Lisa Feinman, who owns the Atlantic Seafood Market in the US state of Connecticut, had carefully packed more than a dozen lobsters in a cooler to fly to a customer in Boston. After the Transportation Security Administration posted the picture on Instagram, attracting thousands of likes, Ms Feinman said she was “personally offended” by the agent’s actions. She added that the TSA should focus on doing its job and “leave our personal property alone”. On Facebook, she wrote: “When is it okay to go through someone’s checked baggage and take photographs? “I packed this checked cooler with care and concern for the lobsters and my customer’s personal property.” Ms Feinman claimed the lobster in the photograph had been purposely packed underneath the other live crustaceans, so the agent “had to dump out 12 other lobsters to get to this guy”.
She also alleged the TSA agent at Logan International Airport in Boston could have broken one of the lobster’s claws because he was not handling it properly. The TSA is yet to respond to Ms Feinman’s claims, but earlier said the lobster had “cooperated quite nicely with the screening process”. According to the agency’s website, live lobsters are allowed through security as long as they are transported in a clear, plastic, spill proof container.
It adds that TSA officers are required to visually inspect lobsters at checkpoints.
The Prime Minister has said security at mosques across Britain will be reviewed after a van was driven into a crowd of Muslim worshippers in the latest terror attack to hit Britain. Theresa May called the attack “every bit as sickening as those that have come before”. She chaired a meeting of the emergency COBRA committee at Downing Street and later visited Finsbury Park Mosque in north London, near the site of the attack, meeting with community and faith leaders. The Metropolitan Police said there will be more uniformed officers at places of worship, including mosques and Muslim community centres, as they try to reassure local people. Speaking outside Number 10, Mrs May said the terrorist attack1 “targeted the ordinary and the innocent going about their daily lives”. “Today we come together as we have done before to condemn this act and to state once again that hatred and evil of this kind will never succeed,” she added. Mrs May said security was being stepped up.
“Extra police resources have already been deployed to reassure communities, and police will continue to assess the security needs of mosques and provide any additional resources needed,” she said.
The Government last summer announced a fund devoted to the security of places of worship, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said. “We have made available 2.5m,” she told Sky News. “I recently announced who would be getting those additional funds, which included 12 mosques, and actually I have reopened it recently to make sure that any additional place of worship that feels the need can apply for extra security.”
The attack happened shortly after midnight, when a man drove a van into a crowd of worshippers outside the mosque, injuring 10 people and leaving one dead. A 47-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder and terror offences. It is the fourth terror attack since March in the country, and the third to involve a vehicle deliberately driven at pedestrians.
Image: The scene as Mrs May visited the mosque
It comes during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. For the Prime Minister, it comes at a difficult time, following her disastrous election gamble and the Grenfell Tower fire, in which dozens of people died. Hers and the Government’s response to the blaze was widely criticised for lacking empathy . Mrs May did not meet any survivors when she first visited the scene of the fire, and was heckled when she returned a day later. Mrs May is fighting for her survival2 amid rumours a leadership challenge might be imminent.
Image: Communities Secretary Sajid Javid says the Government will fight ‘anti-Muslim hate crime’
Communities Secretary Sajid Javid also visited the scene, and, outside the police cordon, comforted a woman who was visibly shaking. Mr Javid said: “I want to reassure both the local Muslim community, but also Muslims across the United Kingdom, that they will always have the full support of this government in fighting anti-Muslim hate crime.” Jeremy Corbyn, who lives near the site of the attack, expressed “absolute shock”.
After meeting with faith leaders at Finsbury Park Mosque, the Labour leader called the attack “an act of terror against a wholly innocent community who were coming out of prayers and walking home on the street next to where I live”.
“I am of course critical of cuts made to the police service, I make no criticism of the police behaviour or reaction last night.”