Protests and prayers

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - IAN DEITCH

JERUSALEM — Prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque ended peace­fully Fri­day af­ter two weeks of un­rest over se­cu­rity de­vices at the holy site in Jerusalem, Is­raeli po­lice said, while vi­o­lent protests in the West Bank and Gaza were fa­tal to two Pales­tini­ans.

Ten­sions have been high since Arab gun­men killed two po­lice of­fi­cers in the sa­cred Jerusalem com­pound on July 14, prompt­ing Is­rael to in­stall se­cu­rity de­vices at en­trances to the site that is holy to both Mus­lims and Jews.

The move out­raged Mus­lims and sparked some of the worst street clashes in years, threat­en­ing to draw Is­rael into con­flict with other Arab and Mus­lim na­tions. Un­der in­tense pres­sure, Is­rael re­moved the metal de­tec­tors this week and said it planned to in­stall so­phis­ti­cated se­cu­rity cam­eras in­stead.

By night­fall Fri­day, Jor­dan’s re­li­gious body that ad­min­is­ters the Jerusalem site said the sit­u­a­tion at the com­pound had re­turned to what it was be­fore the July 14 at­tack — a key Pales­tinian de­mand for protests to end. The Waqf said “all doors are opened in front of wor­ship­pers with­out re­stric­tions or con­di­tions,” adding that the de­vel­op­ment was a re­sult of “pres­sure from the Jor­da­nian govern­ment on the Is­raeli govern­ment.”

Fi­ras Dibs, an of­fi­cial from Waqf, said ear­lier that tens of thou­sands of peo­ple at­tended Fri­day prayers.

The prayers ended with­out in­ci­dent, po­lice spokesman Micky Rosen­feld said. There were some spo­radic, low-level scuf­fles be­tween Pales­tini­ans and Is­raeli forces nearby but noth­ing on the scale of re­cent vi­o­lence.

Po­lice had barred men un­der 50 from the Jerusalem site dur­ing the day and braced for vi­o­lence af­ter se­cu­rity as­sess­ments in­di­cat­ing that Pales­tini­ans had planned protests there. There were no re­stric­tions on women. Is­raeli po­lice lifted the age re­stric­tions and other mea­sures Fri­day night.

Mus­lims only re­turned to the site on Thurs­day — af­ter about two weeks of pray­ing in the streets nearby to protest the new se­cu­rity mea­sures. They had claimed that Is­rael was try­ing to ex­pand its con­trol over the site. Is­rael de­nied the al­le­ga­tions, in­sist­ing that the mea­sures were meant to pre­vent more at­tacks and point­ing to sim­i­lar mea­sures at sen­si­tive sites around the world.

Five Pales­tini­ans have died in the past week, and scores were wounded in vi­o­lent clashes with Is­raeli se­cu­rity forces over the holy site.

The fate of the shrine is an emo­tional is­sue at the heart of the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict. Even the smallest per­ceived change to ar­range­ments there can in­crease ten­sions.

Jews re­vere the hill­top com­pound as the Tem­ple Mount, site of the two Jewish bi­b­li­cal tem­ples. It is the holi­est site in Ju­daism and the nearby Western Wall, a rem­nant of one of the tem­ples, is the holi­est place where Jews can pray.

The walled com­pound is home to both the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. It is Is­lam’s third-holi­est site, af­ter Mecca and Medina in Saudi Ara­bia. Mus­lims be­lieve the site marks the spot where the Prophet Muham­mad as­cended to heaven.

Jor­dan is the cus­to­dian of the Mus­lim shrine in Jerusalem and was in­volved in be­hind-the-scenes ne­go­ti­a­tions to end the lat­est es­ca­la­tion. But there has been grow­ing anger in the king­dom over the cri­sis at the shrine and over a deadly al­ter­ca­tion at the Is­raeli Em­bassy com­pound in Am­man ear­lier this week. Jor­dan’s 1994 peace treaty with Is­rael re­mains deeply un­pop­u­lar in the king­dom.

King Ab­dul­lah II of Jor­dan scolded Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s han­dling of the in­ci­dent, in which an Is­raeli guard shot and killed two peo­ple af­ter he was at­tacked by one of them with a screw­driver.

Ne­tanyahu praised the guard and gave him a warm per­sonal wel­come when he re­turned to Is­rael af­ter a diplo­matic stand­off this week.

Jor­dan’s at­tor­ney gen­eral on Fri­day filed mur­der charges against the guard and hun­dreds of Jor­da­ni­ans marched in Am­man, chant­ing, “Death to Is­rael.”

Is­rael’s For­eign Min­istry said Fri­day night that it was in­ves­ti­gat­ing the in­ci­dent and would up­date Jor­dan on de­vel­op­ments.

Ne­tanyahu has been try­ing to halt the un­rest while not ap­pear­ing to his hard-line base as cav­ing into Arab de­mands. He has been crit­i­cized by na­tion­al­ist mem­bers of his coali­tion govern­ment who ac­cused him of ca­pit­u­la­tion.

In Gaza, which is run by the mil­i­tant Ha­mas group, the Health Min­istry said a Pales­tinian teen was killed in clashes Fri­day with Is­raeli sol­diers sta­tioned near the strip’s bor­der fence with Is­rael. It said the 16-year-old was killed while protest­ing ten­sions in Jerusalem.

There were sev­eral such protests Fri­day in the Gaza Strip. The Is­raeli mil­i­tary said Pales­tini­ans threw rocks and rolled burn­ing tires at them. It said troops opened fire when “main in­sti­ga­tors” ig­nored warn­ings to stop dam­ag­ing the se­cu­rity bar­rier.

In the vi­o­lence in the West Bank, a Pales­tinian was shot and killed af­ter he bran­dished a knife and ran at troops, Is­rael’s mil­i­tary said. No sol­diers were hurt in the in­ci­dent at the Gush Etzion junc­tion, the mil­i­tary added.

AP/ARIEL SCHALIT

Is­raeli po­lice of­fi­cers aim their weapons Fri­day as Pales­tini­ans protest in Jerusalem. The po­lice were on high alert ahead of Mus­lim prayers at the ma­jor Jerusalem shrine at the cen­ter of re­cent ten­sions, but the day ended peace­fully at the site.

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