UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Mideast envoy warned Monday that the crisis at Jerusalem’s holiest site affects millions if not billions of people around the world and has “the potential to have catastrophic costs” well beyond the Middle East.
Nicolay Mladenov also warned that “the dangers on the ground will escalate” if the crisis over Israel’s installation of metal detectors isn’t resolved by the time of Muslim prayers on Friday.
He spoke to reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council at an urgent closed-door meeting on the crisis at the request of Egypt, Sweden and France. The council is scheduled to hold its monthly open meeting on the Mideast on Tuesday and dozens of countries are expected to speak.
Mladenov said it is “critically important” that the status quo which has been in place at the site since 1967 is preserved.
He urged council members to use their influence with both sides to de-escalate the situation and ensure that the status quo is preserved while security is provided for worshippers and visitors to the site, which is revered by Jews and Muslims.
The Jerusalem landmark is the holiest site in Judaism and Jews call it the Temple Mount, or home of biblical Temples destroyed two millennia ago. Muslims believe the hilltop compound, which they call the Noble Sanctuary, marks the spot from which Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. It is the third holiest site of Islam and houses the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosques.
The crisis erupted after three Arabs killed two Israeli officers near one of the compound’s gates on July 14. Israel responded by closing the site to search for weapons for two days and then installing metal detectors and more recently cameras.
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. ambassador, told reporters Monday that Palestinians will stay in the streets until “all obstacles” to allowing Muslims their right to pray at Al-Aqsa are “removed completely without conditions,” including metal detectors and cameras which violate the status quo.
Israel’s security cabinet announced early Tuesday it would remove the metal detectors and use “sophisticated technology” instead. It did not elaborate but Israeli media earlier reported high resolution cameras capable of detecting hidden objects would be the alternative.
If cameras are used, that could still spark Palestinian opposition.
The Israeli announcement followed the return of the Israeli Embassy staff from Jordan. They had been barred from leaving Amman after an attack on an embassy guard by a 17-year-old Jordanian using a screwdriver. The guard then shot and killed two Jordanians.
Mansour said the Security Council should condemn in the strongest terms the closing of Al-Aqsa mosque for the first time since 1969, stressing that “Al Aqsa mosque should not be closed under any pretext.”
Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Danny Danon told reporters that “we will enable everybody to come and pray on the Temple Mount, but at the same time we will do whatever is necessary to maintain security on this important site.”
Instead of issuing “a carefully worded statement asking for calm,” he said the Security Council should demand that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas stop the violence, “his tacit support for terror” and “Palestinian lies” — and “make him do so immediately before the lives of more innocent victims are lost.”
The Security Council took no action but France’s U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre said there was “a large convergence among council members that all of us carry a message to the parties towards de-escalation” and cooperation “to work out as soon as possible a way out of the crisis.”