Israel removes controversial security measures from shrine
JERUSALEM, Middle East — Palestinians were scheduled to return to pray at a sensitive Jerusalem holy site on Thursday after Israeli authorities removed controversial security measures there, potentially ending a nearly two-week crisis that sparked deadly unrest.
Muslim authorities announced a boycott of the Haram al-Sharif compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, was to end on Thursday afternoon after Israel removed remaining new security measures.
The compound includes the revered Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Palestinians had boycotted it since the security measures were installed following a July 14 attack nearby that killed two policemen.
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas joined calls for worshippers to return to the site.
“The prayers will happen, God willing, inside the Al-Aqsa mosque,” Abbas said.
Abbas announced a freeze on contacts with Israel last week over the dispute, including security coordination, and said on Thursday a meeting would be held on whether to lift it.
A tense standoff had been underway between Israel and Muslim worshippers at the holy site for nearly two weeks despite the removal of metal detectors on Tuesday. Most Muslims have avoided entering the compound, praying instead in the streets.
Newly installed railings and scaffolding where cameras were previously mounted were also removed early on Thursday from the Haram al-Sharif compound.
Police said on Thursday morning that all new security measures had now been removed.
The removal of the installations overnight prompted Palestinian crowds to celebrate in the streets near the site.
Celebrations at site
Muslims had refused to enter the compound and prayed in the streets outside after Israel installed the new security measures.
Palestinians viewed the move as Israel asserting further control over the compound.
Israeli authorities said the metal detectors were needed because the July 14 attackers smuggled guns into the compound and emerged from it to attack the officers.
Deadly unrest has erupted since the new measures were introduced, with clashes breaking out around the compound and in the occupied West Bank, leaving five Palestinians dead.
There had been concerns that Friday’s main weekly Muslim prayers — which typically draw thousands to Al-Aqsa — would lead to serious clashes between protesters and Israeli security forces if a resolution was not found. Muslims had threatened a “day of rage” on Friday.
In the pre-dawn hours of Thursday, crowds of Palestinians gathered at the entrance of the site to celebrate the removal of the remaining security installations, 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”.
Following intensive international diplomacy and warnings of the potential for 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 previously 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 was planning had led Palestinian and Muslim leaders to continue to urge a boycott of the site, and worshippers had heeded their call.
It was not immediately clear if Israel would stick to reported plans to install a smart camera system in Jerusalem’s Old City. Cameras are already widespread inside its walls.
The prayers will happen, God willing, inside the Al-Aqsa mosque.” Mahmud Abbas, Palestinian president, joining the calls for worshippers to return to holy site after a nearly two-week boycott