Muslims Return to Al Aqsa Mosque to Pray After Israel Removes Security Measures - Media Shah Alam

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Muslims Return to Al Aqsa Mosque to Pray After Israel Removes Security Measures

JERUSALEM — Throngs of Muslims resumed praying at the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on Thursday after Israel, seeking to reduce tensions in an explosive atmosphere, removed the last traces of security structures near the entrances to the holy site before dawn.

The moves came after a two-week standoff and outbursts of deadly violence that had spread to the West Bank, as Palestinians in East Jerusalem boycotted the sacred compound, praying en masse in the streets to protest the installation of metal detectors and other security measures.

Amjad Idris, 21, a municipal worker from East Jerusalem, said that the Palestinians had won.

“All is good,” he said. “What the Israelis put up yesterday has gone today.”

But emotions remained charged, and clashes broke out in and around the holy esplanade. Protesters hurled stones and were dispersed by the riot police. Palestinian medics reported dozens injured by stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets.

Israel took down the metal detectors on Tuesday amid a diplomatic showdown with Jordan, the custodian of the shrine and a crucial regional ally.

But the crisis was more than a struggle over security measures, touching on the volatile and fundamental issues of ownership and control of the compound that is revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

Tensions with Jordan also worsened on Thursday, with King Abdullah II harshly criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel over his handling of the fatal shooting of two Jordanians in Amman this week by an Israeli Embassy guard.

The Palestinian civil disobedience campaign was accompanied by bloodshed — three Israelis were stabbed to death and four Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli security forces. And the decision to remove the remaining metal railings and scaffolding occurred under the threat of further violence.

Hamas, the Islamic militant group, had called for a “Day of Rage” on Friday, and Fatah, the rival mainstream faction led by President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, similarly called for a day of rage last week and urged Palestinian Muslims to hold protest marches.

Amateur video footage showed trucks hauling away the last of the new security equipment through the Lion’s Gate of the Old City overnight Thursday. Crowds of Palestinians whistled, cheered and chanted, “Allahu akbar!” (God is great) in triumph.

“Everyone stood as one man,” Mr. Abbas said on Thursday, praising the determination of the Palestinians who had stayed outside the mosque compound until Israel had restored the area around the mosque to its previous state.

Mr. Abbas added, according to Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency, “What concerns us is the continuation of support for our people and their steadfastness in their land, in their homes, in their homeland and in Jerusalem.”

Ismail Haniya, the leader of the Hamas movement, described the day’s events as a “victory,” adding in a statement that it was “the beginning of the defeat of the occupation over Jerusalem and Al Aqsa,” referring to Israel.

Israel’s police chief, Roni Alsheich, told reporters in the Old City on Thursday that the metal detectors and recently installed cameras had been dismantled because they were of no value at this time.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said he had ordered the installation of the metal detectors after two Israeli police officers were gunned down at an entrance to the holy site in mid-July. Mr. Netanyahu has since come under heavy criticism for what some call hasty decision-making. He has also been accused of capitulating: first to pressure from right-wing rivals in his coalition, and then to pressure from the Palestinians.

The current crisis began with a brazen attack on the morning of July 14, when three armed Arab citizens of Israel emerged from Al Aqsa Mosque and shot dead the two Israeli Druze police officers who were guarding the compound.

Since the metal detectors went up, three members of an Israeli family have been stabbed to death at their home in a West Bank settlement, and four Palestinians have been killed in clashes with security forces in and around Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem.

Israel’s relations with Jordan were further strained after the Israeli security guard, who had been attacked in the Israeli Embassy compound in Amman, shot dead two Jordanians, one of whom had been an innocent bystander.

Mr. Netanyahu gave the guard a hero’s welcome on his return to Israel, and the prime minister’s office distributed video of him embracing the guard, fueling outrage in Jordan.

King Abdullah on Thursday excoriated Mr. Netanyahu, saying he had exploited the episode for “personal political gains.”

The king described Mr. Netanyahu’s behavior as unacceptable and provocative, called on Israel to bring the guard to justice and said relations between the countries would depend on how Israel handled the affair.

Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 war, and annexed the area in a move that was never internationally recognized. Under the delicate arrangements that have governed the site’s administration for decades, Jordan maintains a custodian role, reaffirmed in its peace treaty with Israel in 1994.

The Palestinians demand East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state alongside Israel, but peace talks have been at an impasse for years.

Although the nearby Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews can pray, and other holy sites, including mosques, are equipped with metal detectors, the Palestinians viewed the Israeli-installed equipment as an affront to their dignity and as an assertion of Israel’s claim to sovereignty over the area.

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