JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday defended his decision to remove metal detectors from the entrance to a Jerusalem holy site after deadly unrest, saying it was in the best interest of security.
Israel installed metal detectors and security cameras after a July 14 attack near the Haram al-Sharif, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, in which gunmen killed two policemen.
Israeli police said the metal detectors were needed because guns were smuggled into the site and the assailants emerged from it to carry out the attack.
The move sparked Muslim protests and deadly unrest, and the government removed the detectors on Tuesday as well as the cameras.
That, however, brought fierce criticism from the far-right flank of Netanyahu’s own conservative coalition.
A poll of Israeli Jews found 77 percent thought the move constituted “capitulation”, while even the normally pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom attacked his handling of the crisis.
“I listen to the sensitivities of the public, I understand their feelings, I know that the decision we took is not an easy one,” he said at the start of Sunday’s cabinet meeting — his first public comment on the removal of all the security measures.
“At the same time, as prime minister of Israel, as the one who carries the burden of Israel’s security on his shoulders, I am obliged to take decisions in a calm and considered way. I do that with a view to the big picture,” he said.
Palestinians saw the new security measures as Israel asserting further control over the holy site, which houses the revered Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
It is located in east Jerusalem, seized by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.
It is the third-holiest site in Islam and the most sacred for Jews as the site of the first and second ancient temples.
Muslims refused to enter the shrine and prayed in the streets outside for more than a week.
Protests and deadly unrest erupted in the days after the measures were installed, with clashes breaking out around the compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, in the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.
Seven Palestinians were killed in clashes.
A Palestinian also broke into a home in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank and stabbed four Israelis, killing three.