Israel lifted age restrictions for the main weekly prayers at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Temple Mount on Friday, in an apparent bid to ease tensions over the site that sparked a surge in violence.
The decision, which allowed all Muslim worshipers to attend Friday prayers at the Al-Aqa Mosque compound on the Mount, and increasing diplomatic efforts to restore calm, came as Palestinian political parties called for a “Day of Rage” with protests to be held after Friday prayers in Gaza and the West Bank.
It also came a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with US Secretary of State John Kerry on the current round of violence. Kerry said after the meeting that he was “cautiously optimistic” that tensions would ease.
The Quartet of Middle East peacemakers — US Secretary of State John Kerry, his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and UN chief Ban Ki-moon — were to hold talks on the escalating violence later Friday.
Hamas, the Islamist movement which rules the Gaza Strip, called in a statement for “more protests and more clashes with soldiers in the West Bank.”
The Temple Mount is one of the key sources of tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, as it is both the third-holiest site for Muslims and the holiest site for Jews. Under the terms of an agreement in place since 1967 — the so-called status quo — Jews are allowed to visit but not pray there.
It is managed by an Islamic foundation under the auspices of Jordan but Israel controls access. Israel has in previous weeks restricted the entry for Muslim men to the site to those over a certain age, in an effort to prevent violence.
A series of Palestinian terror attacks on Israelis, and Israeli-Palestinian clashes, have erupted in recent weeks over Palestinian claims that Israel was planning to change the status quo, despite vehement denials from the Jewish state.
On Friday morning, an IDF soldier was stabbed and wounded in the shoulder by a 16-year-old Palestinian in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc. The soldier shot his assailant in the knee to thwart the attack.
A military spokeswoman said the stabbed soldier was a Bedouin tracker who had opened a gate to enable Palestinians to harvest their olive trees.
Ten Israelis have been killed and dozens injured in a string of attacks in the past month. At least 40 Palestinians have also died, many while carrying out stabbing attacks on Israelis and others in clashes with security forces.