CHURCH leaders in Jerusalem have fervently condemned the escalation of violence at the Temple Mount — or Haram ash-Sharif — the highly contested religious site in the Israeli-occupied Old City of Jerusalem.
Three Arab Israeli gunmen opened fire last Friday on Israeli police officers at one of the surrounding gates, killing two of them, and wounding a third, before the attackers were shot dead.
Israeli forces have since increased security around the site, sparking further protests. This included the installation of metal detectors, which Palestinian and Islamic leaders say undermines the fragile set of arrangements agreed after Israel took control of the Old City during the Six-day War in 1967.
Men under the age of 50 have been banned from entering the area, as part of tightened security measures, after Palestinian Muslim leaders urged worshippers to gather in the streets for Friday prayers, rather than walk through the metal detectors, in a show of solidarity and protest.
Police attempted to break up the gatherings by firing rubber bullets, tear gas, and stun grenades, reportedly injuring 37 people. Protesters responded with rocks and bottles. Further protests were expected on Friday and over the weekend.
In a statement, the patriarchs of 13 Christian Churches in Jerusalem, including the Greek, Syrian, Coptic, Lutheran, Anglican, and Ethiopian Orthodox Churches, have expressed serious concern over the violence, and grief at the loss of life.
“We are worried about any change to [the] historical (Status Quo) situation in al-Aqsa Mosque (Haram ash-Sharif) and its courtyard, and in the holy city of Jerusalem,” they write. “Any threat to its continuity and integrity could easily lead to serious and unpredictable consequences, which would be most unwelcome in the present tense religious climate,” they state.
“We value the continued custody of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy places in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, which guarantees the right for all Muslims to free access and worship to al-Aqsa Mosque according to the prevailing Status Quo.”
All involved must “fully respect” the status quo regarding the governance of the site “for the sake of peace and reconciliation” for the whole region, the Church leaders concluded.