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Standoff at Jerusalem holy site after metal detectors removed

By AFP - Jul 27,2017 - Last updated at Jul 27,2017

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — A tense standoff was under way between Israel and Muslim worshippers at a Jerusalem holy site Wednesday despite the removal of metal detectors, with concerns of major unrest this week if no resolution is found.

Muslims have refused to enter the site and have prayed in the streets outside for more than a week after Israel installed new measures at the Haram Al Sharif compound.

The measures followed an attack that killed two Israeli Soldiers, and included metal detectors at entrances.

Palestinians view the move as Israel asserting further control over the site, which houses the revered Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

Protests and deadly unrest have erupted in the days since, with confrontations breaking out around the compound in Jerusalem’s Old City and in the occupied West Bank, leaving five Palestinians dead.

There are concerns that Friday’s main weekly Muslim prayers — which typically draw thousands to Al Aqsa — will lead to serious confrontations between protesters and Israeli 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 israeli forces 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.

Railings installed at the site’s entrance before the metal detectors were removed have also remained in place. 

The railings and suspicions over what new measures Israel is planning have led Palestinian and Muslim leaders to continue to call for a boycott of the site, and worshippers have heeded their call.

“We leave at 6:00am and we return after the last prayers around 9:30 to 10:00pm,” Umm Maath, from Nazareth in northern Israel who has been coming with a group to pray outside in protest, said Wednesday.

“We reject the metal detectors. We reject the cameras.” 

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who announced a freeze on contacts with Israel last week over the dispute, said Tuesday the suspension would continue until the site was returned to the way it was before the crisis began.

Israel’s decision to remove the metal detectors came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held talks with His Majesty King Abdullah, who had demanded their removal. Jordan is the official custodian of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem

A top aide to US President Donald Trump also arrived in Jerusalem for talks on the crisis on Monday.

UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov has warned of wider unrest and said Tuesday that “we are not over this crisis yet”.

The clock was ticking, with last week’s Friday prayers having brought the situation to a boil.

Concerned with the potential for unrest, Israel barred men under 50 from entering Jerusalem’s Old City for prayers. 

The compound is in East Jerusalem, seized by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.

The third-holiest site for Muslims and the most sacred for Jews, it is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has served as a rallying cry for Palestinians.

In 2000, then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon’s visit there helped ignite the second Palestinian Intifada, or uprising.


Authorities were also keeping a close eye on the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron, where Israeli settlers occupied a disputed building on Tuesday, boosting tensions.

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