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Israel Permits Al-Aqsa Prayer Except For Men Under 50

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Despite incessant tensions for several weeks around the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, people have witnessed an unexpectedly quiet Friday prayer.

The holy site, known as Noble Sanctuary to Muslims and as Temple Mount to Jews, was closed to Muslim men under 50, while women and older men were allowed to enter as part of their Friday prayer under extra security measures with hundreds of police wearing riot gear, some on horseback and walls.

Except for small skirmishes between Palestinian young men praying outside the mosque and Israeli forces, no serious violence has been recorded.

The tension reached the highest level on July 14, when two Israeli police guards were shot dead at an entrance gate to the mosque by three Arabs before the Friday prayer.

Israeli authorities, in an attempt to fully control entry and exit of the mosque, totally shut down the area and did not let Muslims pray for the first time in three years. The measure outraged Muslims worldwide, drawing criticism from Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.

The violence and some light clashes between Muslim worshippers and Israeli security forces lasted for two days. As anger grew in both parties, the crisis triggered an international alarm.

Turning up the heat in an already tense situation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government decided to install metal detectors at entry points to Al-Aqsa.

Metal detectors, widely interpreted by Muslims as an Israeli attempt to take control over the holy site, set off the bloodiest clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in years.

Palestinians refused to go through the metal detectors due to what they called increasing Israeli encroachment over the Islam’s third-holiest site, citing a violation of religious freedom, and held street prayers in addition to mass protests.

The U.N. Security Council sought ways to calm the situation while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he would halt security ties with Israel until it removes the walk-through gates.

President Donald J. Trump sent his special representative for international negotiations to Israel in a bid to help reduce tensions.

Under fire, Israeli authorities decided to remove metal detectors and replace them with high-tech surveillance cameras that will detect what worshippers are carrying.

Palestinians, however, reacted swiftly by branding the modified “smart checking” security measures as “unacceptable.”

“We reject all obstacles that hinder freedom of worship, and we demand the return to the situation where things stood before July 14,” Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah told his cabinet in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The Waqf, the religious body of Islamic sites in the compound, called Muslim worshippers to continue praying in the streets outside, as an indication of rejection of new measures.

Meanwhile, the crisis in Jerusalem publicly brought Turkey and Israel head-to-head once again. On Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of attempting to take Al-Aqsa mosque over from “the hands of Muslims.”

Mr. Erdogan called on Muslims to be active in defending Al-Aqsa.

Chairman of Turkey’s ruling party AKP also strongly condemned Israel on preventing worshippers from accessing the mosque in recent days.

Israel responded to Mr. Erdogan’s statements in a series of tweets.

On Twitter, Israeli Foreign Ministry described Mr. Erdogan’s statements as “Absurd, unfounded and distorted” and wrote:

“He would be better off dealing with the difficult problems facing his own country.”

In an unusual diplomatic way and without mincing words, the Ministry said “The days of the Ottoman Empire have passed. Jerusalem was, is, and will always be the capital of the Jewish people.”

“Those who live in glass palaces should be wary of casting stones” it added.

On Wednesday, Huseyin Muftuoglu, foreign ministry spokesman of Turkey, condemned Israeli foreign ministry’s statement and called the comments “presumptuous.”

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