(Haaretz). Israel is committed to safeguarding Islamic holy places in its jurisdiction, President Shimon Peres said Wednesday, in response to days of tension and rioting in Jerusalem centering around the flashpoint Temple Mount/Holy Sanctuary compound.
Police remained on high alert Wednesday and were limiting the entry of Muslims to the compound for the fourth day in a row, permitting only men over 50 and women of any age to pray there. Jewish visitors and tourists were to allowed to enter. The compound houses the al-Aqsa mosque and is the third holiest site in Islam, marking according to tradition the spot from where the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven. But it also contains the ruins of the Jewish biblical temple and as such is the most sacred site in Judaism. The latest tensions erupted Sunday last week, when according to Israel a group of Christian tourists made a pre-arranged organized tour of the compound under Israeli police escort. Rumors soon spread that they were Israeli settlers seeking to symbolically re-inaugurate the ruined biblical temple at the site, on the eve of Yom Kippur.
On Wednesday a delegation from the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, and Arab-Israeli legislators, toured the compound and accused Israel of carrying out archaeological excavations under the compound. Peres, speaking at the start of a Jewish-Arab bicycle tour in northern Israel, said Jewish law forbade digging under holy sites and contravened Israeli law as well. "We will all guard the holy sites, so that all can pray and also cycle along the path of a shared life," he said.