Muslim leaders in Jerusalem have told worshippers to return to a holy site to pray after Israel removed security devices.
The leaders met after Israel removed an overhead metal bridge and railings installed outside the shrine after a Palestinian attack at the compound. It dismantled metal detectors there earlier this week.
Thousands of Palestinians have been praying in the streets outside the shrine after religious leaders told them not to worship inside the holy compound in protest.
Violence erupted last Friday over Israel’s closure of the holy site, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif – the Noble Sanctuary – and to Jews as the Temple Mount.
“After extensive discussion and after achieving this victory in this round we call on our people in Jerusalem and inside (Israel) and anyone who can access the Al-Aqsa Mosque to enter … en masse,” the Islamic leaders declared in a statement.
The head of the Supreme Islamic Committee, Ikrema Sabri, said the first prayers would be held there on Thursday afternoon.
Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, on Thursday said prayers should be resumed at the mosque, which is situated in the compound known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram Al Sharif, the Maan news agency reported.
The statement followed Israel’s dismantling starting Tuesday of metal detectors and other security measures put in place by Israel in response to the slaying of two police officers by three Arab-Israeli terrorists outside the mosque on July 14. Palestinian leaders and religious figures called for worshipers to stay away and put up “popular resistance” – code for violent confrontations and terrorist attacks.
Israel installed the new security measures earlier this month after Palestinian gunmen shot and killed two police officers from within the site.
It said the security measures were necessary to prevent more attacks and are standard procedure to ensure safety at sites around the world. Palestinians claimed Israel was trying to expand its control over the site.
The issue sparked some of the worst street clashes in years and threatened to drawIsrael into conflict with other Arab and Muslim nations.
Palestinians danced, chanted “God is Great” and set off fireworks after some security devices were removed early on Thursday morning. It dismantled metal detectors there earlier this week.
Israel removed the devices under intense pressure and said it plans to install sophisticated security cameras instead.
But Palestinian politicians and Muslim clerics insisted that was not enough and demandedIsrael restore the situation at the shrine in Jerusalem’s Old City to what it was before the July 14 attack.
The fate of the site is an emotional issue at the heart of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Even the smallest perceived change to delicate arrangements pertaining to the site sparks tensions.
Israel’s decision to add security measures outraged Muslim and triggered protests, and low-level clashes have continued in and around Jerusalem in the days since.
The continued stand-off highlighted the deep distrust between Israel and the Palestinians when it comes to the holy site.
Jews revere the hilltop compound in Jerusalem’s Old City 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.
Muslims believe the site marks the spot from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. It is Islam’s third-holiest site after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
The latest development could put Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a tough spot as he tries to end a wave of unrest that has triggered international pressure while not appearing to his hard-line base as capitulating.