(JTA) – The United Nations Security Council expressed “grave concern” over violence at Jerusalem’s holiest site and is calling for restraint and calm.
The unanimous declaration – well short of a resolution, which would have the force of international law – was issued late Thursday after three days of clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters and rioters at the hilltop compound known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif. The statement, posted by UN Report, a site that tracks UN statements, has yet to be posted to the Security Council website.
The clashes began Sunday morning, with security forces seizing pipe bombs at the site in an operation carried out hours before Jews prepared to celebrate the Jewish New Year.
The police said its forces had entered the site after protesters began throwing stones and firecrackers at the Mughrabi Gate, the access point for non-Muslim visitors to the site.
According to an arrangement between the Israeli government and the Muslim authority administering the site, known as the “status quo” and in place since shortly after Israel captured the mount in the 1967 Six-Day War, Jews may visit the site but organized Jewish worship is discouraged. The site houses a mosque compound said to be the third holiest in Islam. The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism, but Jewish worship is confined to the adjacent Western Wall.
The council statement said Muslims at the site “must be allowed to worship in peace, free from violence, threats and provocations.”
It also said that “visitors should be without fear of violence or intimidation,” apparently an allusion to small organized groups of Muslims who have in recent years harassed Jewish groups visiting the site.
The members of the Security Council called for the “exercise of restraint, refraining from provocative actions and rhetoric, and upholding unchanged the historic status quo” at the compound “in word and in practice,” added the statement.
Police clashed with about 200 rioters at the Mughrabi Gate during Friday afternoon prayers, Israel Radio reported.
The unrest has drawn international attention; clashes at the site have in the past led to wider outbreaks of violence in the region.
U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday spoke of the violence in a conversation with Saudi Arabian King Salman.
“They discussed regional issues, including Yemen and recent violence and tensions at Jerusalem’s Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount,” said the statement – notable because U.S.-Saudi co-operation has focused in recent months exclusively on the war in Yemen and the Iran nuclear deal.
Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, castigated the Security Council statement for not explicitly mentioning Palestinian violence at the flashpoint site.
“This statement, which only uses the Arabic name for the Temple Mount, affirms the right of Muslims to be present and to pray at the compound, but completely ignores the Palestinian violence, the deep connection of the Jewish people to the Temple Mount, and the right of all to visit the site,” he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also spoke with the UN chief Thursday, telling him that Israel was working to end the violence. “Unlike the Palestinian side’s incitement, Israel is taking pains to preserve the status quo,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying in a statement from his office.
He added that Israel would respond aggressively to stone-throwing and firebomb attacks, which have caused the deaths of innocent Israelis.
Police said they would prohibit the entry of men under 40 to the compound on Friday.
Israel’s chief rabbis appealed to their Muslim counterparts to discourage violence at the site.
“We expect our friends, our partners in the council of religious leaders in Israel, to condemn all those who desecrate the holy places and bring into them weapons of various kinds, and to prevent such phenomena,” David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef said in a joint statement.