Muslim leaders call for return to Jerusalem holy site

Muslim leaders have instructed worshippers to return to pray inside Jerusalem's Temple Mount, or Noble Sanctuary. Israel moved to de-escalate tension after a July shooting at the site by removing security devices.

"Prayers will happen, God willing, inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque," said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking at a press conference.

The statement came after Muslim leaders announced the end of a two-week boycott of the site over security devices installed there by Israel.

Palestinians celebrated in the streets of Jerusalem Thursday morning, setting off fireworks, honking car horns and shouting "God is great," after Israeli authorities dismounted the security installations they had recently installed around a contested Jerusalem holy site known as Temple Mount to Jews and the Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) to Muslims.

Israel's decision to remove the railings and overhead metal bridge followed a similar decision Tuesday that led to the removal of recently installed metal detectors.

The latest announcement sought to diffuse lingering tension that had arisen between Muslim worshippers and leaders and the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had ordered the installation of security measures – and later their removal – on the 37-acre site after two Arab gunmen shot and killed two police officers on July 14 from inside the holy site.

Israel boosts security at Jerusalem holy site amid tensions

Palestinians' protests turn violent

The Palestinian protests turned into clashes in which one man was shot dead on Friday. The Health Ministry said at least 20 people were hospitalized from rubber bullet wounds and tear gas inhalation during clashes with Israeli police. The day had started with increased security measures.

Israel boosts security at Jerusalem holy site amid tensions

No access for men under 50

Israeli police said they would prohibit Palestinian men under the age of 50 from entering Jerusalem's Old City for Friday prayers at the holy site of Haram al-Sharif, also known as Temple Mount.

Israel boosts security at Jerusalem holy site amid tensions

Women are allowed to enter

Israeli authorities said they would allow women of all ages to enter the holy site for Friday prayers.

Israel boosts security at Jerusalem holy site amid tensions

Praying as an act of protest

Palestinian Muslims have been praying on the streets outside the mosque compound for the past week.

Israel boosts security at Jerusalem holy site amid tensions

Women gather outside in solidarity

In the Old City of Jerusalem, Palestinian women come together to pray on the street outside of the holy site, following an appeal from Muslim clerics.

Israel boosts security at Jerusalem holy site amid tensions

Contentious security measures

Israeli authorities say the security measures are necessary after three Arab Israeli gunmen killed two police officers at the entrance of the shrine. The issue has quickly gained an international dimension as the mosque compound is considered the third most holy site in Islam after Medina and Mecca.

Netanyahu attacks Al-Jazeera

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Netanyahu threatened to expel the Qatari-based Al-Jazeera news network out of Israel, saying it was continuing to "incite violence around the Temple Mount."

"I have appealed to law enforcement agencies several times to close the Al-Jazeera office in Jerusalem," he wrote in a Facebook post. "If this is not possible because of legal interpretation, I am going to seek to have the necessary legislation adopted to expel Al-Jazeera from Israel."

The network serves as a main source for news from Israel to a large number of predominantly Muslim countries. It repeatedly came under fire from Israel, but also Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and several other Gulf states, who accuse it of bias and propaganda. In the outgoing diplomatic stand-off with Qatar, the predominently Sunni countries are demanding that Doha shutter the broadcaster.

Responding to Netanyahu, Al-Jazeera condemned "arbitrary accusations and hostile statements."

It also pledged "take all necessary legal measures in case they act on their threat," saying its coverage was professional and objective. 

Condemnation from Muslim leaders

Muslim leaders had condemned the security equipment, claiming that it was a move by Israel to tighten its control over the site holy to both Muslims and Jews. The head of the Supreme Islamic Committee, Ikrema Sabri, had demanded previously that Israel remove all the newly implemented security measures, restoring the pre-July 14 arrangements, or else the mass protests that have been taking place would continue.

After the announcement that the security measures would be removed, Muslim leaders said they were satisfied and encouraged adherents to return to the site for prayer.

Violent clashes have also been taking place over the week, in both Jerusalem's Old City and the West Bank, and Israeli authorities had feared that further unrest could take place on Friday between protesters and Israeli security forces when thousands of Muslims arrive, as usual, at the holy site to take part in the week's most important prayers.

Palestinian worshippers pray in the streets outside the holy complex

It remained unclear whether the removal of the railings and bridge would satisfy the Muslim authorities' de-securitization demands and lead to the resumption of Muslim worship inside the site. Muslim worshippers have been praying in the streets outside the site's gates for a week. 

Thursday morning the director of the Al-Aqsa mosque, one of the holy buildings within the complex, called on the celebrating Palestinians to maintain their boycott until an inspection and confirmation from a committee of Muslim officials could be provided. The committee's decision is expected Thursday morning.

Read more: The Temple Mount: A clash of cultures

Netanyahu under pressure

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said that security cameras with "advanced technologies" - possible face recognition - would be installed on site in the upcoming months. However, his earlier decision to remove conventional security features, particularly the metal detectors, drew criticism from hard-line critics who have accused the conservative leader of bowing to international public pressure and flip-flopping on his policy.

In an article on Wednesday, the conservative and typically pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom described the prime minister's response to the shooting as "hasty and confused" and his back-tracking on the metal detectors as "feeble." 

Israeli police dismantle metal detectors outside the holy site known as Temple Mount to Jews and Noble Sanctuary to Muslims

Netanyahu announced the removal of the metal detectors after a Wednesday phone conversation with Jordanian ruler King Abdullah II. Jordan is the official custodian of Muslim holy sites in the Jerusalem.

The Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary complex sits in East Jerusalem, which was annexed by Israel in the aftermath of the 1967 Six Day War. The international community does not recognize Israel's control of the territory.

cmb/ng (AP, AFP)