Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday urged his Israeli counterpart Reuven Rivlin to swiftly remove metal detectors that have outraged Muslim Palestinian worshippers at a sensitive holy site in annexed east Jerusalem.
Palestinians have been refusing to enter the Haram al-Sharif compound since Sunday, when Israel began installing metal detectors at entrances to the site following an attack that killed two police officers.
“Within the framework of freedom of religion and worship there can be no impediment for Muslims” entering the holy site, the Anadolu news agency quoted Erdogan as telling Rivlin.
“Given the importance that Haram al-Sharif carries for the whole Islamic world, the metal detectors put in place by Israel should be removed in the shortest possible time and an end put to the tension,” Erdogan added.
The Turkish leader had earlier held telephone talks with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas, telling him the measures imposed by Israel were “unacceptable”.
Turkey and Israeli last year ended a rift triggered by Israel’s deadly storming in 2010 of a Gaza-bound ship that left 10 Turkish activists dead.
But Erdogan, who regards himself a champion of the Palestinian cause, is still often critical of Israeli policy.
Palestinian and Muslim religious leaders have urged worshippers not to enter the compound through the metal detectors, and hundreds have been holding prayers outside the site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, with clashes occasionally breaking out.
Erdogan expressed sadness over the “loss of lives” in the incident on July 14 when two Israeli police officers were shot dead by three Arab Israeli attackers who were killed by security forces.
Erdogan said such violence could never be approved.
“The steps taken on the Temple Mount were intended to ensure that such acts of terror could not be repeated,” Rivlin told Erdogan.
Erdogan’s call came a day ahead of the weekly Friday prayers, with speculation intensifying over whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will order the removal of the metal detectors.
The spokesman for Erdogan, Ibrahim Kalin, had earlier expressed concern that the use of the metal detectors was part of a step-by-step change in the status of the entire complex.