Police to bar Temple Mt. gathering
Jerusalem police chief Ilan Franco has decided to bar a massive Jewish pilgrimage to the Temple Mount by a group of ultra-nationalists opposed to the planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip following multiple intelligence warnings that such an event could prompt Palestinian violence at the bitterly contested holy site, police said Tuesday.
But organizers said that they were going ahead with the event, which is scheduled for April 10, setting the stage for a major show-down with police outside the Jerusalem site next month.
The event's organizers had planned to bring up to 10,000 people to the Mount at one time, in an effort to pre-occupy police and the army, and take them away from Gaza.
Palestinian officials have denounced the campaign as a provocation, and have warned that such a visit could lead to a renewal of violence at the bitterly contested holy site.
Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said that an amalgamation of intelligence information has indicated that if the group enters the mount, there was a "real possibility" that violence would break out at the site.
In response, campaign organizer David Ha'Ivri said that his group was going ahead with widely publicized plans to visit the site, and were not planning on canceling the event despite the police announcement.
Hundreds of Jewish and Christian sightseers peacefully visit the holy site on a daily basis during morning visiting hours.
But over the last six months, police and security officials have repeatedly warned of the possibility that Jewish extremists would attack the super-sensitive Jerusalem holy site as a way of sabotaging the planned summer pullout from Gaza.
The head of the domestic Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) Avi Dichter has said that coupled with the possibility of an assassination attempt on the life of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the threat of an attack by Jewish extremists on the Temple Mount is of the highest concern among security officials, as Israel prepares to withdraw from Gaza.
In light of the threats, Jerusalem police chief Ilan Franco recently ordered more patrols in and around the compound. Some 700 officers, including regular police, paramilitary border troops and undercover forces are regularly assigned to the Old City alone.
Police said Tuesday that they would further increase their forces outside the Jerusalem holy site on the day of the planned event in order to prevent any attempts of forced entry to the Mount.