A section of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount that has been closed by Israeli court order for over 15 years was reopened to Palestinian worshipers Saturday, Army Radio reported.
It was not immediately clear who had ordered the reopening of the Gate of Mercy, or Golden Gate, or what was the cause for the reversal in policy.
MK Ahmad Tibi of the joint Hadash-Ta’al party visited the compound by the Al-Aqsa Mosque and said its opening was “an important and significant step.”
He added that Muslims and the Waqf, custodians of the holy site, “should be given full control of the mosque, without the entry of settlers and Jewish politicians from the right,” according to Army Radio.
On Friday thousands of Palestinian protesters chanting “Allahu Akbar” streamed into the sealed-off area of Al-Aqsa during prayers. Israeli police said the crowds dispersed peacefully afterward.
The Gate of Mercy was sealed by Israeli authorities in 2003 because the group managing the area had ties to Hamas, and it has been kept closed to stop illegal construction work there by the Waqf. Israeli officials believe the work has led to the destruction of antiquities from periods of Jewish presence in the area.
Tensions have escalated at the contested compound. Similar protests turned into scuffles with police earlier this week. Anticipating unrest, police arrested 60 Palestinians Thursday overnight suspected of “causing disturbances.”
Police accused the Waqf of trying to “change the status quo” at the sensitive site by convening in the closed area last week.
The Temple Mount, the location of the biblical Jewish Temples, and now of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock shrine, has in recent years become an epicenter of tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.
Palestinian fears about purported Israeli plans to change the 52-year arrangement on the Temple Mount — where the Waqf maintains administrative control and the Israel Police security control — have become a daily staple in Palestinian political rhetoric and media reports in recent years. Multiple car-rammings, stabbings and shootings have been attributed by Palestinian attackers to the alleged efforts by Israel to alter the status quo at the site, according to which Jews may visit but not pray there.
The Israeli government has insisted it does not intend to change the status quo.