Palestinians of all ages will be allowed to perform prayers Friday at the al-Aqsa mosque compound in annexed East Jerusalem for the first time in months, an Israeli police spokesman announced, a day after US Secretary of State John Kerry said “firm commitments” have been made during the Amman meetings to maintain the status quo at the compound.
“No age limit on the Temple Mount, we’re hoping things will be calm and quiet today,” spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld told AFP, using the Zionist term for the al-Aqsa mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem.
“Extra police units were deployed in Jerusalem this morning to prevent any incidents in and around the Old City,” he added.
Israeli forces have long restricted Palestinians’ access to the al-Aqsa compound based on age and gender, but in the past months they have further prevented Muslim worshipers from entering the mosque while facilitating the entrance for Zionist extremists.
Rosenfeld linked the decision to lift age restrictions to talks in Jordan on Thursday after which Kerry said steps were agreed between King Abdullah II and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to lower tensions at the al-Aqsa mosque compound.
“Firm commitments” were made to maintain the status quo at the compound, Kerry said at a press conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, asserting that both Israel and Jordan agreed to take steps to “de-escalate the situation” in Jerusalem and “restore confidence.”
“We are not going to lay out each practical step. It is more important they be done in a quiet and effective way,” Kerry stated, adding that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who joined in over the phone, “promised” to encourage resumption of collapsed Palestinian-Israeli talks.
“It is clear to me that they are serious about working on the effort to create de-escalation and to take steps to instil confidence that the status quo will be upheld,” he stated.
The US diplomat also met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Thursday, and they, according to Kerry, “discussed constructive steps, real steps, not rhetoric, that people can take in order to de-escalate the situation.”
Tensions have been running high in the occupied West Bank, annexed East Jerusalem and other regions in Occupied Palestine, where in recent weeks Israeli forces shot and killed six Palestinians.
Israeli authorities have also allowed Zionist settlers to take over homes in Palestinian neighborhoods, have announced plans to build thousands of settlements strictly for Israeli settlers in the city while ignoring Palestinian residents, and have generally looked the other way at rising violence by Zionist settlers against Palestinians across the city.
The anger has been further provoked by the Israeli authorities’ decision to hold a vote on splitting the al-Aqsa compound, Islam’s third holiest site, despite the existence of a Jewish prayer area at the Western Wall immediately next door.
Jordan’s King called for Israel Thursday “to put an end to its unilateral action and repeated attacks against holy sites in Jerusalem, especially those targeting the al-Aqsa mosque compound,” his palace said.
Recent clashes between Israeli Occupation Forces and Palestinians protesting the storming of al-Aqsa by several far-right Israeli members of the Knesset as well as groups of Zionist settlers, prompted Jordan last week to recall its ambassador to Israel “in protest at Israel’s escalation” and move to file a UN complaint.
Since Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, an agreement with Jordan has maintained that Jewish prayer be allowed at the Western Wall plaza – built on the site of a Palestinian neighborhood of 800 that was destroyed immediately following the conquest – but not inside the al-Aqsa mosque compound itself.
In a letter to the UN Security Council sent on Wednesday, Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour demanded international intervention over Al-Aqsa, warning tensions could “spiral out of control”.
Furthermore, in a move likely to further heighten tensions around al-Aqsa, Israel’s Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said late Wednesday that Israel will “increase the supervision of people entering the [al-Aqsa] compound” by reintroducing metal detectors and facial-recognition technology that were removed from the compound’s entrances in 2000.
In September 2000, a visit to al-Aqsa by controversial Israeli politician Ariel Sharon triggered what later became known as the “Second Intifada,” a popular uprising against Israel’s decades-long occupation in which thousands of Palestinians were killed.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank during the 1967 Six-Day War. It later annexed the city of Jerusalem in 1980, claiming it as the capital of the self-proclaimed Zionist state – a move never recognized by the international community.
(AFP, Anadolu, Al-Akhbar, Reuters)