Israel reopens Al-Aqsa amid intense security

At least 3,000 officers deployed following holy site’s rare closure sparked by clashes over killing of Palestinian.

Israeli right-wing activists scuffled with police as they tried to storm the Al-Aqsa compound on Thursday [AP]

Israel reopened Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound for the Muslim Friday prayers, but restricted entry for Muslim men under the age of 50, following a rare closure due to clashes sparked by the killing of a Palestinian by police.

Small groups of Palestinian worshippers made their way through a series of Israeli checkpoints to the site.

Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said on Friday that younger Muslims were barred from the holy site, which is known by Jews as Temple Mount, because of fears of unrest at the midday prayer. 

Additional police were deployed around the Al-Aqsa compound in the heart of the Old City on Friday, with local media reporting the presence of about 3,000 officers, three times more than usual.

“There was a huge security presence and I do want to stress huge” Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab reporting from East Jerusalem said.

“We are talking thousands of Israeli police and riot police were stationed right around this area,” said Tyab, who was standing outside the Damascus Gate entrance to the Old City.

Even though no clashes were reported after prayer services ended, Israeli security personnel were seen firing several volleys of tear gas canisters at dozens of rock-throwing Palestinian youths gathered at the Qalandiya checkpoint near the West Bank city of Ramallah. According to Al Jazeera’s Tyab, reports said around eight Palestinians were injured.

Clashes erupted when Israeli police on Wednesday night shot dead a Palestinian accused of trying to kill a far-right Jewish rabbi. 

Jerusalem unrest

The closure was the first for decades and prompted a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to condemn the move as an Israeli “declaration of war”.

The clashes subsided late on Thursday with a few sporadic confrontations between stone-throwing Palestinians and police firing rubber bullets and tear gas.

Three Palestinians were arrested, Samri said.

Jerusalem has been shaken by months of unrest sparked by the murder of a Palestinian teenager in July in revenge for the killings of three Jewish teenagers in the West Bank.

Tensions intensified in the city after the Israeli government announced it is advancing construction plans to build about 1,000 settler housing units in occupied East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want to be part of their future state.

The Palestinians seek East Jerusalem, home to the city’s most sensitive holy sites for Jews, Muslims and Christians, as their future capital and oppose any Israeli construction there.

Israel has said all of Jerusalem will forever be its capital, citing historical, religious and security reasons. But the international community, including the US, does not recognise Israel’s annexation of the eastern sector of the contested city.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies