Jerusalem's Grand Mufti's calls for faithful and return to pray at al-Aqsa
AHMAD GHARABLI (AFP)
Muslim worshippers flocked back to the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif on Thursday after the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Muhammad Ahmad Hussein called for the faithful to return to pray at al-Aqsa mosque, in the wake of clashes and protests at the Temple Mount.
In an interview with the Arabic news outlet al-Arabia, the mufti asserted that the situation has returned to normal and said "we will return to pray at al-Aqsa."
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also called for a return to prayers at the flashpoint holy site.
"The prayers will happen, God willing, inside the Al-Aqsa mosque," Abbas said at a press conference, moments after Muslim authorities announced an end to the nearly two-week boycott.
Jordan on Thursday welcomed Israel's removal of all new security measures from the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and called it a step towards calm.
"The ending of the Israeli measures at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound is an essential step towards calm," Information Minister Mohammad al-Momani said.
Jordan is the official custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem and is one of only two Arab governments to have signed a peace treaty with Israel.
Jerusalem's Chief of police issued a warning to Muslim worshipers on Thursday, saying the police would not hesitate to act if tensions escalate.
“Don’t test us,” the police chief said, “Don’t put us in a situation where we are tested because we know how to act efficiently”
Israel has removed more security installations from the entrance to a sensitive Jerusalem holy site after protests and deadly unrest in recent days, prompting Palestinian celebrations early Thursday.
A tense standoff has been underway between Israel and Muslim worshipers at the holy site despite the removal of metal detectors on Tuesday, with concerns of major unrest later this week if no resolution is found.
Newly installed railings and scaffolding where cameras were previously mounted have now also been removed from at least one main entrance to the Temple Mount.
It was unclear whether Muslim authorities would now grant approval for worshipers to re-enter the site, which houses the revered Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
Palestinians began to gather at the entrance to celebrate in the early hours of Thursday, with whistling and constant horns from cars.
Young men set off firecrackers as Israeli forces watched closely.
Firas Abasi said he felt like crying over the "victory".
"For 12 days no one has slept, no one has done anything except the Al-Aqsa mosque," he said.
Israel installed the new security measures after an attack nearby that killed two policemen on July 14.
Muslims have refused to enter the site and have prayed in the streets outside for more than a week after Israel installed the new security measures there.
Palestinians view the move as Israel asserting further control over the site.
Israeli authorities said the metal detectors were needed because the July 14 attackers smuggled guns into the site and emerged from it to attack the officers.
Protests and deadly unrest have erupted in the days since the measures were installed, with clashes breaking out around the compound in Jerusalem's Old City and in the West Bank, leaving five Palestinians dead.
A Palestinian also broke into a home in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank last week and stabbed four Israelis, killing three.
There have been concerns that Friday's main weekly Muslim prayers -- which typically draw thousands to Al-Aqsa -- will lead to serious clashes between protesters and Israeli security forces.
Following intensive international diplomacy and warnings of the potential of wider unrest, Israel removed the metal detectors early on Tuesday.
Cameras installed after the attack on the police were also removed.
But Israeli officials said they were to be replaced with "advanced technologies" -- widely believed to be smart cameras with facial recognition technology.
The remaining installations and suspicions over what new measures Israel is planning led Palestinian and Muslim leaders to continue to call for a boycott of the site, and worshipers have so far heeded their call.
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