The mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Hussein, declared on Thursday that the Muslim boycott of the Temple Mount due to new Israeli security measures has ended, after police removed all infrastructure placed recently at entrances to the holy site.
“Things have returned to what they were, so we will pray in Al-Aqsa,” he told the Saudi-based news station Al Arabiye.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issued a statement calling for prayer services to be held in the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The call was echoed by Jerusalem’s Muslim religious authorities, which urged worshipers to pray on the Mount rather than at their local mosques.
Muslims have been refusing to enter the site since security equipment, including metal detectors and cameras, was installed after a shooting attack on July 14, in which three Arab Israelis used weapons smuggled into the sacred compound to kill two Israeli policemen.
The mufti’s statement came shortly after Israeli police said early Thursday that all the new security measures, which had driven deadly unrest in Jerusalem and the West Bank, had been removed.
The tense two-week standoff between Israel and Muslim worshipers at the holy site persisted despite the removal of metal detectors on Tuesday, sparking concerns of major unrest surrounding Friday prayers.
Deadly unrest erupted with the introduction of the new measures, with clashes breaking out around the compound and in the West Bank, leaving five Palestinians dead. A Palestinian also broke into a home in a settlement in the West Bank last week and stabbed four members of the Salomon family, killing three of them.
The newly installed railings and scaffolding where cameras were previously mounted were also removed early on Thursday from the compound, which encompasses the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
“The police returned the security measures to how they were before the attack,” Israel Police spokeswoman Luba Samri told The Times of Israel. “The metal detectors, the cameras, the barriers, the scaffolding — everything that was added has now been taken down.”
The removal of the installations overnight prompted Palestinian crowds to celebrate in the streets near the site.
Muslims have refused to enter the site and have been praying in the streets outside since Israel implemented the measures. Palestinians said they viewed the move as Israel asserting further control.
Israeli authorities said the metal detectors were needed because the July 14 attackers smuggled guns into the compound and emerged from it to attack the officers.
Samri, the police spokeswoman, said Israeli authorities had “done absolutely everything in order to return the situation to its original state.” Still, she added, security assessments would continue and the additional security measures could be returned.
“Everything is possible,” she said. “Yes, it could change again.”
The decision to remove the new security measures was met with harsh criticism from both the Israeli right — which blasted it as a capitulation — and the left, which argued the measures shouldn’t have been introduced to begin with.
While saying that he would not criticize Benjamin Netanyahu directly over the decision, the prime minister’s principal coalition rival, Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett, characterized the move as a “surrender” to terrorism that had weakened Israel.
“Instead of sending a message about Israel’s sovereignty on the Temple Mount, we are sending a message that we can be questioned,” he said.
In a rare attack on his party leader, Likud MK Oren Hazan said that Netanyahu “would not be forgiven for capitulating over Israel’s future security.”
Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, declared in the wake of the installation of the new measures that he was severing security coordination with Israel. On Thursday he did not immediately say whether the removal of the last remaining installations meant he’d roll back that decision.
“The issue of the Al-Aqsa Mosque was only one of the issues that led to the freezing of security coordination,” he said in televised comments. “In light of what is happening in Jerusalem, we continue our research and discussion… meaning, not all things have ended…. There are other issues.”
The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism and is revered as the site of the biblical temples. It is also the third-holiest site in Islam, after Mecca and Medina, and is known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif. Under an arrangement in place since Israel captured the Old City in the Six Day War in 1967 and extended its sovereignty there, non-Muslims are allowed access to the site but are forbidden to pray there. Under that status quo, Israel is responsible for security at the site while the Jordanian trust — the Waqf — is in charge of administrative duties.
AFP contributed to this report.