Israeli police braced for fresh violence Friday ahead of main weekly Muslim prayers at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque, barring men under 50 after clashes erupted as Palestinians ended a boycott of the mosque’s Noble Sanctuary compound.
Tensions at the compound, were high even after thousands of worshippers returned to the site, following a two-week boycott over new security measures that Israel eventually removed.
Friday prayers typically draw thousands to al-Aqsa, and police said there were “indications that disturbances and demonstrations will take place today”.
“Only men over the age of 50 will be permitted,” a police statement said. No restrictions will be imposed on women.
“A number of roads around the Old City will be limited to access and all necessary security measures are being taken to prevent and to respond to any outbreak of violence,” police said.
About 200 Israeli police were inside the Noble Sanctuary on Thursday night, removing Palestinians who had stayed inside as clashes raged. Some were arrested or injured, and Israeli forces prevented medical access.
100 injured as Israeli police storm Old City
On Thursday, the Palestinian Red Crescent said about 100 people were wounded inside the al-Aqsa mosque compound and in adjacent areas of the Old City after clashes erupted. Israeli police said stones had been thrown at officers inside the compound.
Thousands of worshippers earlier streamed into the compound for afternoon prayers for the first time in two weeks, ending a boycott after Israel removed controversial new security measures, installed after a 14 July attack killed two policemen.
Some brought their children in what was initially a celebratory atmosphere.
Muslims had in previous days refused to enter the compound and prayed in the streets outside after Israel installed the new security measures.
Palestinians viewed the move as Israel asserting further control over the site.
Israeli authorities said the measures, including metal detectors, were needed because the July 14 attackers smuggled guns into the compound and emerged from it to attack the officers.
The United States welcomed “the efforts undertaken to de-escalate tensions in Jerusalem today”.
“Calm and security will create the best opportunity to return to dialogue and the pursuit of peace,” US President Donald Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, said.
Rare Palestinian victory
Deadly unrest erupted in the days after the new measures were introduced, with clashes breaking out around the compound and in the occupied West Bank, leaving six Palestinians dead.
A Palestinian also broke into a home in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank and stabbed four Israelis late Friday, killing three of them.
After intensive international diplomacy, Israel had removed the metal detectors on Tuesday.
Newly installed railings and scaffolding where cameras were previously mounted were also removed early on Thursday.
The removal was seen as a defeat for Netanyahu, who had ordered the new security measures and was forced to backtrack after warnings the unrest could spiral out of control.
It represented a rare victory for Palestinians, who remained united in their boycott.
Al-Aqsa’s director, Omar Kiswani, told Middle East Eye he expected clashes on Friday. “I think the occupation forces want to escalate and unleash violence on peaceful worshippers,” he said.
“What happened today is intended to exact revenge on worshippers and protesters who came to pray at al-Aqsa.”
The Israeli media were scathing in their criticism of Netanyahu with even right-wing newspapers normally supportive of the premier letting rip.
“Bibi’s big bungle” was the headline of a front-page analysis in the normally Netanyahu-friendly Jerusalem Post, using the premier’s nickname.
Netanyahu “failed, tried to avoid the punishment he deserved, and ended up with not only that punishment but also paying additional penalties,” the paper said.
Israeli officials had said they were to replace the new security measures with “advanced technologies” – widely believed to be smart cameras with facial recognition technology.
Cameras are already widespread in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Jordan is the custodian of Muslim holy sites at the compound, and King Abdullah had called on Netanyahu to remove the security measures.
The Palestinian information minister, Mohammad al-Momani, Thursday welcomed their removal, calling it an “essential step towards calm”.
Jordan’s king also called Thursday for an Israeli security guard at Israel’s embassy in Amman to face trial over the killing of two Jordanians on Sunday.
The guard shot dead a 17-year-old Jordanian who attacked him with a screwdriver, according to Israeli officials. Another Jordanian was also killed, apparently by accident.
The guard was allowed to return to Israel Monday after a deal said to involve the holy site, but Netanyahu’s embrace of the guard as a hero angered Jordanian officials.[Source: Middle East Eye]