3,000 Policemen Guarding Temple Mount

Police are on nearly top-level alert in Jerusalem, hoping to prevent a repeat of last week's Arab violence.

Hillel Fendel ,

Police Chief Moshe Karadi has raised the alert level around the country to Level III, the second-highest. Jerusalem is of special concern, because of the Moslem rioting violence and threats regarding the construction of a ramp to the Temple Mount from the Western Wall plaza.

As a security precaution, entry to the Friday prayers at the Al-Aksa mosque are restricted more tightly than they have ever been, and only those aged 50 and older will be allowed in.

Three Arabs were arrested shortly before the noon-time prayers began when they tried to evade policemen and ascend to the Mount.

The walkway in question is the only passage by which Jews can enter the Temple Mount - the holiest site in Judaism, the location of the First and Second Holy Temples, and the place where the Binding of Isaac took place. The ramp was heavily damaged during a snowstorm three years ago, and is being replaced. Before the construction can take place, however, Israeli law requires that preparatory archaeological excavations take place to determine if important findings lie below.

Arab leaders have raised an uproar over the works, and have called for another intifada to "save the Al-Aqsa Mosque [on the Temple Mount]." This, despite the fact that the works are underway well outside the Temple Mount. Israeli-Arab Sheikh Raad Salah, who heads the northern branch of the radical Islamic Movement in Israel, was arrested and has been distanced from the Old City for the next two months. He is also charged with attacking policemen.

Other Arab leaders, including Arab MKs, have also stoked the fires of conflict, with Hamas Authority leader Ismail Haniyeh calling on Moslems all over Israel to "prevent" the continuation of the works.

Though the government voted not to give in to the Arab demands to stop the works, Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupoliansky this week announced that construction on the new bridge - which is set to start several months from now - would be postponed. The archaeological work continues, however.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, visiting in Turkey yesterday, has invited a Turkish contingent to supervise the works. The delegation is scheduled to arrive in the coming days.

In addition, the Antiquities Authority, which is conducting the excavations, has installed three cameras that broadcast the goings-on at the site 24 hours a day. The work will resume early Sunday morning.

Last Friday saw what some termed the worst rioting in Jerusalem in many years. Police were forced to use tear gas and stun grenades to disperse thousands of rioting Muslims, while outside the compound, near Lion's Gate, hundreds of Arab teenagers hurled stones, iron bars, vegetables, and at least one firebomb at police. In addition, though Israel Police allowed entry to the Mount only to Moslems aged 45 and older, hoping to thus prevent violence, some 150 youths apparently entered the mosque earlier in the week - and became a focal point of violence.

Police did not enter the mosque, but only after 90 minutes of negotiations between police and Muslim representatives did the youths leave.

"The Arabs actually want the Mughrabi Gate passway to collapse," Knesset Member Aryeh Eldad said this week, "so that they will be able to close the only gate that is under Jewish control. That will end the era of Jewish visitation rights to the Temple Mount. They have been waiting for this for a long time, and that's why they don't want us to refurbish it."