Muslim leaders in Jerusalem called off morning prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on Thursday morning, despite the removal from the site of all Israeli security measures put in place in the wake of a terror attack in which two Israeli police officers were killed near the compound.
Muslims have refused to enter the site since the equipment, including metal detectors, was installed, and have prayed in the streets outside for more than a week. Those prayers have often led to protests and some violent clashes with Israeli security forces in and around Jerusalem and in the West Bank.
The Muslim authorities who administer the site had insisted that all the security measures be removed, in a list of demands given to Israeli police on Wednesday.
Early on Tuesday, Israel had removed the metal detectors and said it planned to install sophisticated security cameras instead. Palestinian politicians and Muslim clerics say that wasn’t enough and demanded that Israel restore the situation at the shrine in the Old City to what it was before the July 14 attack.
Late on Wednesday night, newly installed railings and scaffolding where cameras were previously mounted were also removed from the Lions Gate area near the entrance to the Mount, in a bid to restore calm.
The director of the al-Aqsa mosque, Ahmed Omar al-Kiswani, said late Wednesday that despite the removals, prayers would go ahead on the streets outside the entrance to the compound, as they had over the two weeks since the attack, in which three Arab Israelis killed the two officers near the Lions Gate with guns they had smuggled into the holy site.
Kiswani joined Palestinian celebrations outside the compound in the early hours of Thursday after Israel removed the installations. He was lifted onto the shoulders of joyous Palestinians and given a microphone, then said: “Don’t rush my brothers to enter.
“Do not enter until after there is confirmation from the technical committee,” he said, referring to a committee of Muslim officials inspecting the mosque compound, which is also holy to Jews.
The Palestinian Authority had on Wednesday approved mass demonstrations on a “day of rage” scheduled for Friday. The Hamas terror group also called for protests on Friday.
Muslim leaders were said set to convene Thursday morning with PA President Mahmoud Abbas for a meeting to discuss whether to allow prayer at the site or continue protesting.
There have been concerns that Friday’s main weekly Muslim prayers — which typically draw thousands to the al-Aqsa Mosque — will lead to more clashes between protesters and Israeli security forces.
Palestinians perceived the security measures as a move by Israel to assert further control over the site, a charge Israel has repeatedly denied.
Israeli authorities said the metal detectors were needed because the July 14 attackers were able to smuggle guns into the site.
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.