Pope Francis on Sunday said he was following the recent events surrounding Jerusalem’s Temple Mount with “trepidation.”
Speaking during the Angelus, the pope called for “moderation and dialogue” after several people were killed over the past few days, and asked for prayers that both sides come together with proposals for reconciliation and peace.
The violence began when gunmen killed two Israeli police officers at the site, which is called the Noble Sanctuary by Muslims.
In response, Israel established metal detectors at the entrance to the area, which Muslims said was an encroachment on their rights.
The site is one of several governed by what is known as the “Status Quo,” an arrangement guaranteed by the Ottoman government in the 18th and 19th centuries laying out who controls aspects of seven sites in Jerusalem and two sites in Bethlehem.
Seven of these sites are Christian, and responsibility is shared between different Churches, and two – the Western Wall/Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem, and Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem – are shared between Jews and Muslims.
Under the Status Quo, even the smallest change to any site must be approved by all the involved parties, and the unilateral installation of metal detectors could be seen as violating the principle.
Israeli officials on Saturday said it was possible the metal detectors might be removed, but on Sunday the Israeli minister for regional development, Tzachi Hanegbi, said they would remain, telling Israel’s Army Radio, “If [the Palestinians] do not want to enter the mosque, then let them not enter the mosque.”
The Heads of Churches in Jerusalem – which includes the leaders of local Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant communities – issued a statement on the conflict on Wednesday.
“We are worried about any change to historical (Status Quo) situation in al-Aqsa Mosque (Haram ash-Sharif) and its courtyard, and in the holy city of Jerusalem,” the statement reads. “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.”
There have been several violent incidents since the metal detectors were installed.
Three Palestinian demonstrators were reported killed by Israeli soldiers on Friday, while a fourth Palestinian died on Saturday when a bomb he was preparing prematurely exploded.
A Palestinian stabbed three members of an Israeli family to death, before being shot by a neighbor. The assailant survived. A rocket was launched from the Gaza Strip into Israel on Sunday, but caused no damage.
On Monday, Franciscan Father Francesco Patton told SIR, the news agency of the Italian bishops’ conference, the situation was “very dangerous.”
Patton is the head of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, which has been given the task of protecting the Christian sacred places in the region.
He said the pope’s call to prayer is “fundamental” to all believers “because without this inner inspiration, which comes from God, it is hard for people to open themselves up to dialogue, reconciliation, and peace.”
Patton said the invitation to moderation and dialogue were important, because moderation is necessary “to avoid further fueling tension and violence” and dialogue is “a diplomatic, this is peaceful, instrument that helps to find consensus and compromise.”
The Mideast Quartet – made up of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations- issued a statement over the weekend that said they “strongly condemn acts of terror, express their regret for all loss of innocent life caused by the violence, and hope for a speedy recovery to the wounded” and called on all sides to “demonstrate maximum restraint.”
The Swedish ambassador to the United Nations Security Council, Carl Skau, wrote on Twitter that Sweden, France and Egypt had called on the Council to meet on Monday to “urgently discuss how calls for de-escalation in Jerusalem can be supported.”
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi has called on the Arab League to hold an emergency meeting on the issue on Thursday.
The King of Jordan is considered the custodian of the holy places in East Jerusalem – a role recently reaffirmed by statements by the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process – and mentioned in the Jordan-Israel peace treaty of 1994.
Safadi said the metal detectors must be removed and the “historic status quo respected.”