JERUSALEM (Mar. 13)
Rumors that security agents uncovered a plot to assassinate Interior Minister Yosef Burg were denied by Burg today after police arrested 45 Jewish youths last Thursday night for an alleged attempt to seize the Temple Mount by force of arms.
Seven of the suspects were released but a Jerusalem magistrate extended the detention of 38 others during an unusual nightlong court session. Sixteen of them are soldiers, some of whom perform their military service in yeshivas, chiefly the yeshiva in Kiryat Arba adjacent to Hebron.
The suspects are believed to be members of a group of ultra-nationalist religious zealots. One of them is Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, the former rabbi of Yamit in Sinai who was one of the leaders of the violent resistance by some settlers when they were evacuated by Israeli troops last April, Ariel, now a Jerusalem resident, was remanded in custody for another six days.
RABBI KNEW OF THE PLAN
Police said Ariel knew of the plan to seize the Temple Mount, the site of the first and second Temples and now the third holiest shrine in Islam where Jews are forbidden to pray. According to the magistrate, Ariel plotted with the youths for the takeover attempt and “indirectly encouraged them to do it.”
The police told the court that several dozen yeshiva students who planned the act were arrested at Ariel’s home Thursday night, shortly before the other arrests. Police, working on the basis of intelligence reports, searched Ariel’s flat and other buildings in the vicinity, turning up weapons, hundreds of bullets and two gas masks. Police said the suspects would be charged with incitement to rebellion and conspiring to harm a holy site.
They were reportedly alerted by a Moslem guard at the Temple Mount who heard noises of tunneling underground. A large police force rushed to the scene where they found four armed youths attempting to break into an underground passage leading to the Mount.
A SOURCE OF TENSION
The site has been a source of tension between religious Jews and Moslems for many years. Some Orthodox rabbis forbid Jews to set foot on the site lest they unwittingly step on the area which once held the “holy of holies.” Other rabbis, however, insist that Jews may worship at certain designated areas of the Temple Mount.
One group of religious zealots, who call themselves “The Faithful of the Temple Mount,” frequently attempt to hold prayers there but are ousted by Israeli police.
The Temple Mount holds the El Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock from which the Prophet Mohammed is said to have ascended to heaven. To Moslems, these are the most sacred shrines after Mecca and Medina. In 1969, an Australian Christian set fire to the Al Aksa Mosque. He was found to be demented and was eventually deported.
Last year, a Jewish immigrant from the U.S., serving in the Israel army, tried to shoot his way into the Dome of the Rock, also know as Mosque of Omar Moslem religious authorities claimed both incidents were attempts by Jews to take over the site.
The latest plot, though handily foiled by Israeli police, was denounced by officials in Jordan as an Israeli scheme to destroy El Aksa. They accused Israel of supporting the zealots.
It was not clear whether the aborted attempt had any connection with the rumored plot against Burg whose ministry controls the police. Burg told reporters today that police had received “certain information” which had amounted to nothing. He observed that every minister receives threats from time to time and insisted that the matter was “exaggerated.”
POLICE FEARED POSSIBLE RIOTS
The Chief of Jerusalem police contacted the Moslem religious authorities over the weekend to inform them of the successful prevention of the attempt against the Temple Mount. The police had feared possible riots by the Moslem faithful when they emerged from their prayers Friday but apart from some stone-throwing there were no disturbances
Nevertheless, the disclosure of the plot coincided with continued Arab unrest on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, much of it triggered by the visit of former President Jimmy Carter who is associated with the Camp David agreements. An Israeli soldier was struck on the head by a rock and an Arab youth was shot in the foot over the weekend. At least five other persons were hurt in rock-throwing incidents.
The tension in the territories came up for discussion at today’s Cabinet meeting. Defense Minister Moshe Arens reported how the IDF was handling the situation. Several ministers called for an end to conditions in which Jews could not live in peace in the territories. Others demanded stronger action against law breakers.