World Church leaders offer prayers for 'just peace' in Jerusalem

ReutersPalestinians react following tear gas that was shot by Israeli forces after Friday prayer on a street outside Jerusalem's Old city

Churches around the world are offering prayers for 'just peace' in Jerusalem after some of the most difficult scenes in years.

Israel has said it will not remove the metal detectors at entrances to al Aqsa mosque compound but could eventually reduce their use, Israeli officials said on Sunday. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering alternatives to the walk-through gates that were placed at the mosque after two policemen were shot there on July 14. 

'My heart and my prayers are with you and your churches these days, and with all the peoples of faith in Jerusalem and the Holy Land,' said  Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, in a pastoral letter.  It says: 'We are calling for churches around the world to pray for you these days and for a just peace for Jerusalem. We are sure that churches around the world are following you with great sympathy and with great determination that, together, we will change this situation.'

He adds: 'We have been monitoring the situation in Jerusalem with deep sorrow and grave concern recognising that violence is spiriting conflict on a contentious site for both Jews and Muslims. As a worldwide fellowship of churches, we are urging the world church body and all people of good will to unite in prayer for a just and peaceful solution in Jerusalem.

'We pray and plead for both sides in this precarious situation to talk with one another and arrive at a bone fide solution for access to the Holy Site so that people of faith may worship peacefully. This is the only way forward to coexistence and the violence to cease.'

Tzachi Hanegbi, Israeli minister for regional development and a senior member of the ruling Likud party, told Israel's Army Radio. 'They (metal detectors) will remain. The murderers will never tell us how to search the murderers. If they (Palestinians) do not want to enter the mosque, then let them not enter the mosque.'

In spite of the murders of the two policemen which made the additional security necessary, Palestinians believe the new gates violate agreed arrangements for entry to the mosque, Islam's third-holiest site. Many have refused to go through the metal detectors and there have been violent protests. Israeli security forces shot dead three demonstrators on Friday, according to Palestinian medics.

A fourth Jerusalem-area Palestinian was killed on Saturday when an explosive device he was building went off prematurely, the Israeli military said. He died of shrapnel wounds to the chest and abdomen.

Palestinian leaders had called for a 'day of rage'  after the clashes.

Jerusalem church leaders have been among those calling for a return to the status quo, urging peace and freedom of worship.

Additional reporting by Reuters