Israel lifts age bar for al-Aqsa worshippers

Men of all ages allowed to attend main weekly Muslim prayers at Jerusalem’s flashpoint mosque compound.

Men of all ages will be allowed to attend the main weekly Muslim prayers at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound for the first time in “months”, a police spokesman said.

“No age limit on the Temple Mount, we’re hoping things will be calm and quiet today,” Mickey Rosenfeld told the AFP news agency on Friday.

He was using the Jewish term for the Old City holy site – known as Haram al-Sharif by Palestinians – that has been the scene of repeated disturbances for months.

He added that “extra police units were deployed in Jerusalem this morning to prevent any incidents in and around the Old City”.

Rosenfeld linked the decision to lift age restrictions to talks in Jordan on Thursday after which US Secretary of State John Kerry said steps were agreed between King Abdullah II and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to lower tensions at the mosque compound.

“Firm commitments” were made to maintain the status quo at the compound, holy to both Jews and Muslims, in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, Kerry said at a press conference with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.

Confidence restored 

He said Israel and Jordan, which has custodial rights over Al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem, had also agreed to take steps to “de-escalate the situation” in Jerusalem and to “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 said.

“It is clear to me that they are serious about working on the effort to create de-escalation and to take steps to instill confidence that the status quo will be upheld.”

Israel has regularly used age limits for Muslim men to restrict access to the site.

Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab, reporting from West Jerusalem, said the lifting of age restrictions was likely to be welcomed by the Palestinians but that they had many other grievances.

“Since this July, over 800 people have been arrested in East Jerusalem alone,” he said. “Close to 2,000 security personnel patrol that relatively confined part of the city on any given day.” 

Much of the unrest in Jerusalem has been prompted by Israeli moves to step up settlement activity in the city’s eastern sector and by religious tensions at al-Aqsa compound, a site holy to both Muslims and Jews.

Palestinians have also been angered by a far-right Jewish campaign for prayer rights at al-Aqsa compound, although Israel insists it has no plans to change the decades-old status quo.

Simmering unrest in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem has in recent days spread to other parts of the occupied West Bank and Arab communities across Israel, raising fears of a new Palestinian uprising.

Thursday’s meeting came a day after Israel approved plans for 200 homes in a settlement in East Jerusalem, a move sharply criticised by the US.

Kerry also met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman in an effort to diffuse tensions.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies