Amid flaring tensions, Israel installs cameras at holy site

Israel set up new security cameras Sunday at the entrance to a sensitive Jerusalem holy site as officials consider alternatives to recently installed metal detectors that set off a weekend of violence and prompted the Palestinian president to declare a severing of ties.

Israel set up the metal detectors last week after Arab gunmen opened fire from the shrine, killing two Israeli policemen.

It said they were a necessary measure to prevent more attacks and were deployed routinely at holy sites around the world. Muslims religious leaders alleged Israel was trying to expand its control at the Muslim-administered site and launched mass prayer protests.

On Friday, three Palestinians were killed in street clashes sparked by the tensions over the shrine. Later Friday, a Palestinian who his family said was upset over Israeli policies at the holy site stabbed to death three members of an Israeli family in their home in a West Bank settlement.

At the same time, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced he is freezing ties with Israel on "all levels" until the metal detectors are removed.

On Sunday, Abbas said this suspension also meant a halt in security coordination between his forces in the West Bank and Israeli troops.

Such coordination, largely aimed at a common foe, the Islamic militant Hamas, had been a constant in frequently hostile Israeli-Palestinian relations. Ending those ties could quickly escalate tensions.

The official Palestinian news agency Wafa quoted Abbas as saying that "when we made these decisions, we took a firm and decisive stance, especially with regard to security coordination."

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the security ties are more beneficial to the Palestinians and that Israel can manage without them. "We are not going to chase after them," Lieberman told the YNet news site,

In Israel, there was a growing debate over the initial decision to install the metal detectors at the most sensitive site of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some commentators said it had been a hasty decision, without proper consultations with the military and the domestic Shin Bet security services.

Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, who heads the Israeli defense body for Palestinian civilian affairs, said Israel was open to alternatives to lower the tensions.

"The only thing we want is to ensure no one can enter with weapons again and carry out another attack," he said. "We're willing to examine alternatives to the metal detectors as long as the solution of alternative ensures the prevention of the next attack."

However, the top Muslim cleric of Jerusalem, Mohammed Hussein, told the Voice of Palestine he demands a complete return to procedures that were in place before the initial attack at the shrine, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

In a statement Sunday, the Islamic institutions in Jerusalem, of which he is a part, said they "affirm the categorical rejection of the electronic gates and all the measures of occupation."

Disputes over the shrine, revered by Muslims and Jews, have set off major rounds of Israeli-Palestinian confrontations in the past.

On Friday, several thousand Palestinians clashed with Israeli security forces in the West Bank and in Jerusalem after noon prayers — the centerpiece of the Muslim religious week.

Three Palestinians were killed and several dozen wounded after protesters burned tires and threw stones and firecrackers. Israeli troops responded with live rounds, rubber bullets and tear gas.

Late Friday night, a 20-year-old Palestinian identified as Omar al-Abed jumped over the fence of the Halamish settlement near Ramallah and entered a home, surprising a family that was celebrating a new grandchild during their traditional Sabbath dinner. He stabbed to death Yosef Salomon, 70, and his adult children, 46-year-old Chaya and 35-year-old Elad, while his daughter-in-law escaped to a separate room to shelter her young children.

A neighbor, an off-duty soldier, heard the screams, rushed to the home and opened fire, wounding the attacker. TV footage showed the floor tiles drenched in blood, and officials called it a "massacre."

"This has nothing to do with metal detectors. There is no justification for murdering a grandfather at a party to celebrate the birth of his new grandson," said Oded Revivi, the chief foreign envoy of the Yesha settlers' council.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the attack as "an act of terror, carried out by an animal who was incited with unfathomable hatred."

At his weekly Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu vowed the killer's home would be demolished swiftly in retribution and those who incited and glorified his act would be dealt with.

"Since the beginning of the events I've conducted a series of meetings and evaluations with the all the security officials, including those on the ground. We receive updates on the ground from them and recommendations on how to act and we decide accordingly," he said.

Israel has repeatedly accused the Palestinian Authority of permitting anti-Israeli incitement in the public Palestinian discourse and vowed to act against it. The Palestinians reject the allegations, saying Israel's 50-year-old occupation of lands sought for a Palestinian state is at the root of widespread Palestinian anger and helps drive violence.

Israel has yet to comment on the new cameras and whether they offered a chance to restore calm. A top Abbas adviser said he was holding consultations with various countries, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morocco, about the crisis.