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Israeli Police Brace for New Violence at Jerusalem Holy Site

 

AFP

 

Israeli police braced for fresh violence Friday ahead of main weekly Muslim prayers at a Jerusalem holy site, barring men under 50 after clashes erupted as Palestinians ended a boycott of the mosque compound.
 
Tensions at the Haram al-Sharif, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, were high even after thousands of worshippers returned to the site, that encompasses the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, 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.
 
On Thursday, the Palestinian Red Crescent said around 100 people were wounded inside the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and in adjacent areas of the Old City after clashes erupted, with police saying 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 July 14 attack killed two policemen.
 
Some cried as they entered while others shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greatest). 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.
 
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.
 
- Smart cameras? -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 II had called on Netanyahu to remove the security measures.
 
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.
 
The holy compound lies in east Jerusalem, seized by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognized by the international community.
 
The third-holiest site for Muslims and the most sacred for Jews, it is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has served as a rallying cry for Palestinians.
 
In 2000, a visit to the compound by then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon helped ignite the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising.
 

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