No age restrictions for Muslim prayers on Temple Mount Friday

Police announcement comes after Kerry, Netanyahu, Abdullah agree on ‘practical steps’ to deescalate tensions

Palestinians pray as Israeli policemen watch over during Friday prayers in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras El Amud November 7, 2014. (Photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90)
Palestinians pray as Israeli policemen watch over during Friday prayers in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras El Amud November 7, 2014. (Photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90)

Israel Police announced late Thursday evening that there would be no age restrictions for Muslim worshipers on the Temple Mount on Friday for the weekly prayers.

Restrictions on male worshippers have been imposed on several recent Fridays. The police have, on occasion, barred access to the site to Palestinian men under 35 years of age, fearing unrest and riots. There have been times the restrictions have included all men under 50. Females of all ages have been allowed access the site.

The announcement came shortly after a trilateral meeting in Amman between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and US Secretary of State John Kerry, after which the top American diplomat said steps were agreed upon to lower tensions between Israel and the Palestinians over Jerusalem’s contested holy site.

Kerry said the confidence-building steps, which would not be publicly spelled out, were agreed to at the meeting. It was not immediately clear if the eased restriction on Temple Mount prayer was one such step.

“Firm commitments” were made to maintain the status quo at the compound in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem which is holy to both Jews and Muslims, Kerry said at a press conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.

Israel and Jordan, which has custodial rights at the compound, also agreed to take steps to “de-escalate the situation” in Jerusalem and to “restore confidence”.

“We are not going to lay out each practical step; it is more important they be done in a quiet and effective way,” Kerry said.

Jordan’s FM Nasser Judeh said Amman would review its decision to recall its envoy to Israel based on Jerusalem’s implementation of its commitments to restore calm.

“Recalling our ambassador for consultation was a very clear signal that something has to be done to check these actions that are causing great concern,” Judeh said. “With intensively diplomacy we have seen a commitment on the part of Israel to respect and maintain the status quo and respect the Jordanian custodianship (of the holy sites). We have to wait to see if this is done.”

The meeting came after several months of unrest in East Jerusalem, which has spread to the West Bank and Arab communities across Israel in recent days, raising fears of a new Palestinian uprising.

The Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Al-Aqsa compound, is the holiest site in Judaism, and the third-holiest in Islam. It has been a source of increased tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, which have led to a number of violent clashes between security forces and Palestinian demonstrators, four terror attacks and an attempted assassination of a Temple Mount activist in just under a month.

Jews are allowed to visit but forbidden from praying at the contested site, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war, but where it allowed the Muslim Waqf authorities to remain in administrative charge.

Also on Thursday, police said they were removing concrete blocks in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya that were placed there to block a main road leading to the city’s Jewish French Hill neighborhood.

Police said the decision was made after the local leadership committed to preventing unrest.

Earlier Thursday, a tense confrontation erupted in the neighborhood as about 100 residents, including schoolchildren, tried to block the closed-off main road.

Local activist Raed Abu Riyaal told AFP that the parents’ committee had decided to protest over police action to cut off three of the district’s four entrances with the concrete blocks.

Earlier this week, the residents lodged an appeal with Israel’s Supreme Court against the closure, describing it as “collective punishment,” Abu Riyaal said.

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