GALI TIBBON / AFP / Getty Images

Netanyahu defends plan for surveillance at holy site as violence continues

US Secretary of State John Kerry announces video surveillance at holy site as key step to easing tensions

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday defended a U.S.-brokered plan to install video surveillance at a sensitive Jerusalem holy site, saying it could help refute claims that Israel is trying to expand Jewish presence there. Palestinians, however, said they are concerned that Israel would use the cameras to spy on and arrest people.

The conflicting views came in response to a U.S.-brokered proposal to quell tensions at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound that have sparked recent violence.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki called the measure a "new trap."

He told Voice of Palestine radio on Sunday that Israel was planning to use such footage to arrest Muslim worshippers it believes are "inciting" against it. There was no immediate comment from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Ma'an News Agency, a Palestinian news source, reported that Israeli police shot and killed a Palestinian woman in Hebron on Sunday. Israeli police said the woman was shot after they noticed she had a knife, but did not confirm if the woman had been killed, Ma’an reported.

Also on Sunday, two Palestinians disguised as ultra-Orthodox Jews stabbed an Israeli in the West Bank, wounding him moderately, the Israeli military said. The Israeli man shot at the attackers, who fled the scene.

A Palestinian man in his 20s was also shot and injured by an Israel settler east of Hebron on Sunday, Ma’an reported. The settler said the man had tried to stab him, although Ma’an cited initial reports from Israeli forces saying the actual suspect had fled.

Earlier in the weekend, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy was shot in the cheek and left shoulder by Israeli forces during clashes outside of the West Bank city of Ramallah, Ma’an reported.

In an attempt to end the recent violence, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced that Israel and Jordan, which oversees the holy site, agreed to a series of measures, with the surveillance cameras as the centerpiece.

The Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third-holiest site in Islam, shares a wall with the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism and home to the biblical Jewish Temples. The spate of violence began following Palestinian allegations that Israel is trying to alter a delicate arrangement at the holy site — a charge that Israel denies.

Speaking to his cabinet, Netanyahu said Israel has no plans to change the longstanding status quo at the site, where Jews are allowed to visit but not pray.

"The Temple Mount will be managed as it has been until now,” he said. “The visits by Jews to the Temple Mount will be maintained, there will be no change, as with the prayer arrangements for the Muslims.”

Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said Israel supports the surveillance proposal for reasons other than reducing tensions over the site.

"Netanyahu wants the video cameras just to track our people and arrest them," Erekat told the Voice of Palestine radio station.

Azzam Khatib, director of Waqf, the Jordanian religious body that runs the site, said footage from the security cameras would be streamed on the Internet "so the world would see what is going on inside Al-Aqsa."

But a Jordanian intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue with reporters, said the arrangements announced by Kerry have not yet been discussed in detail.

Among the key questions that remain are when the system will go into effect and who will do the monitoring. Israeli police already maintain hundreds of security cameras in Jerusalem's Old City.

The Al-Aqsa compound is both a religious and national symbol for the Palestinians, and conflicting claims to the site have triggered violence between Israelis and Palestinians in the past.

The latest unrest began in mid-September after Palestinians accused Israel of plotting to take over the site. Such accusations were fueled by increased restrictions on Palestinian worshippers and a growing number of visits to the compound by Jewish groups seeking prayer rights, which are backed by senior Israeli politicians.

Clashes repeatedly erupted between Palestinian protesters hurling rocks and firebombs and Israeli police, who responded with stun grenades. The violence quickly spread across Israel and into the West Bank and Gaza.

In the past five weeks, at least 53 Palestinians and nine Israelis have been killed. More than 1,500 Palestinians have also been injured in clashes with Israeli forces, forcing the Red Crescent to declare an emergency.

Israel has accused Palestinian political and religious leaders of spreading lies and inciting violence. Palestinians say the violence is the result of nearly 50 years of occupation and a lack of a political horizon toward statehood.

In his comments Saturday, Kerry gave little indication that he plans to address these deeper issues. Kerry had previously engaged in months of shuttle diplomacy aimed at reviving talks on a final peace deal, but those efforts collapsed in the spring of 2014.

Israel captured the holy site from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war. But under a decades-old agreement, Jordan maintains custodial rights over the Muslim holy sites through Waqf, and since signing a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, has often served as a mediator. When similar tensions erupted last year at the same site, Jordan briefly withdrew its ambassador from Israel and tensions subsequently abated.

Al Jazeera with Associated Press

Related News

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter