Muslim leaders of the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem have given their approval for Palestinians to re-enter the site after Israel removed new security measures, following almost two weeks of protests that saw several Palestinians killed and hundreds injured.
Officials of the Islamic Waqf authority that administers the holy site said on Thursday that Muslims should claim victory after Israel backed down, and urged them to once again pray inside the mosque.
The first prayer is expected to take place at around 13:00 GMT.
“We will be able to offer prayers inside the compound,” said Abdel-Azeem Salhab, director of the Islamic Waqf Council.
“The Israeli occupation forces have been trying for decades to violate al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Now, you are living in the new era of victory. We totally appreciate the masses who have been gathering,” he added.
Israel had erected railings, gates and scaffolding where cameras were mounted at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound entrance, claiming the measures were necessary for security after an attack on July 14.
Palestinians protested against increased security, which they viewed as an encroachment of Israeli control over the holy site, and a form of collective punishment.
With the discriminatory security measures, they feared that Israel was attempting to change the status quo of al-Aqsa, which gives Muslims religious control over the compound and Jews the right to visit, but not pray there.
Deadly street protests
Instead of praying inside al-Aqsa, thousands worshipped in the streets.
They also demonstrated, often clashing with police. At least six Palestinians were killed in that violence – one of whom was shot by a settler, and hospitals were unable to keep up with the number of injured.
“We had to sacrifice everything, we had to win this battle, and we finally won,” Ahmed Abulawa, a resident of occupied East Jerusalem, told Al Jazeera. “Jerusalem is our soul, our faith and we cannot live without it and al-Aqsa.
“Everyone here will sacrifice everything for al-Aqsa, and this is what made us victorious.”
A Palestinian also allegedly broke into the home of a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank and killed three Israelis.
By Tuesday, Israel had removed metal detectors from the entrance.
The measures, which also saw Palestinian men under the age of 50 banned from Friday prayers, were imposed after the alleged attack almost two weeks ago at the compound, carried out by Palestinian gunmen who killed two Israeli security guards.
As workmen removed the extra security installations on Thursday, Palestinians gathered to celebrate, with whistling and constant horns from cars.
“The message here is that the people have won,” said Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from occupied East Jerusalem. “It is a very special time for the Palestinians, who have never really experienced this kind of victory. They have achieved what they wanted.”
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, backed calls to return to al-Aqsa Mosque.
“The prayers will happen, God willing, inside the al-Aqsa Mosque,” Abbas told a press conference.
The compound houses al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock shrine, Islam’s third holiest site after Mecca and Medina, but also the ruins of the Biblical Jewish Temple.
Israeli police earlier confirmed that all security measures had been removed.[Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies]