Thousands Worship at Jerusalem Shrine Amid Clashes in West BankBy and
Ban on services was lifted as Israel removed security devices
Netanyahu rivals accuse him of giving in to overseas pressure
Thousands of Muslim worshipers attended Friday prayers at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque a day after Palestinian government and religious leaders called off their ban on services there, further easing a confrontation with Israel over sovereignty.
Men under 50 remained barred from praying at the shrine -- where Israel controls security -- and some chanted and shouted at checkpoints near the Old City in Jerusalem. In the West Bank, there were reports of minor clashes, and at least one Palestinian attempted to stab soldiers near the Gush Etzion junction before he was shot dead, the Israeli army said.
Palestinian leaders had originally called for a “Day of Rage” on Friday, and for the continued boycott of the shrine, but prayers resumed last night after Israel removed crowd surveillance equipment it had installed at a site also revered by Jews. Palestinians portrayed the Israeli about-face as bolstering their claims of sovereignty over the complex, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war.
Outbursts of unrest linked to the compound typically assume crisis proportions, magnified by the competing Israeli and Palestinian claims to the site. Muslim faithful revere it as the place the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven, calling it Haram Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary. Jews, who call it the Temple Mount, venerate the hilltop as the location of their biblical temple, Judaism’s holiest site.
Confrontations with Israeli police on Thursday left at least 118 Palestinians injured, most from tear-gas inhalation and some hit by rubber-coated bullets, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society emergency services. Citing the continued unrest, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered that the police presence be bolstered throughout areas of the Old City and east Jerusalem surrounding the al-Aqsa compound.
Worshipers had prayed in the streets outside the shrine rather than submit to the metal detectors, security cameras and crowd control barriers placed after Israeli Arab gunmen killed two Israeli policemen at the site two weeks ago.
Although Israel insisted the equipment was security precaution, the Palestinians saw them as a sign it was tightening its grip over the holy site, and by extension, the Israeli-occupied eastern sector of the city that they claim for a future capital. Muslim countries and organizations supported their campaign to revoke the new security arrangements.
In the week following placement of the cameras, four Palestinians were killed at clashes with Israeli security forces and three members of an Israeli family were stabbed to death by a Palestinian who broke into a West Bank settlement home.
The Israeli government’s decision to reverse the security measures was an acknowledgment that the unrest they provoked was more dangerous than the domestic fallout from backtracking.
Although a recent poll showed that three-quarters of Israelis surveyed thought the Israeli leader capitulated to Palestinian pressure in taking down the most visible of the new security devices -- metal detectors -- an obviously bigger concern was the threat that the violence would spiral.
Political opponents castigated Netanyahu for caving in to international pressure.
“Israel comes out weaker from this crisis,” Naftali Bennett, the education minister who heads the right-wing Jewish Home party, told Israel Radio. “Instead of strengthening our sovereignty in Jerusalem, we sent a message that you can weaken our sovereignty.”
— With assistance by David Wainer