Israel reopens al-Aqsa mosque compound before Friday prayers

Rare closure followed fatal police shooting of Palestinian suspected of having been the attempted killer of a rabbi.
stand-off outside al-aqsa mosque between israeli police and the mufti of jerusalem
Israeli border policemen prevent the Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Hussein (centre), from entering the al-Aqsa mosque compound on 30 October. Photograph: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty

Israel reopened the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem on Friday before the weekly Muslim prayers, after a rare closure following clashes sparked by the killing by police of a Palestinian shooting suspect.

The streets of east Jerusalem were calm before midday prayers, following an Israeli clampdown on the shrine on Thursday.

Police spokeswoman Luba Samri told Agence France-Presse that because of fears of unrest, entry for Muslim men would be restricted to those over 50. Additional police were deployed around the compound in the heart of the Old City. Local media reported the presence of 3,000 officers, three times more than usual.

Thursday’s full closure of the compound – the first in 14 years – was described by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, as “tantamount to a declaration of war”. It came after anti-terrorist police shot dead a 32-year-old Palestinian on Thursday morning who was suspected of having tried to kill a far-right rabbi the night before.

In the aftermath of the shootings, Israeli security forces brought reinforcements – some called in from the West Bank – into the Old City and Palestinian neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem as helicopters flew overhead and observation balloons were deployed in several locations.

The al-Aqsa compound, or Temple Mount, has become a central point in the escalating violence in the city in recent months. The compound houses Islam’s third holiest site, but is also the sacred spot for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it once housed two Jewish temples.

In an escalation of the rhetoric around the site, Abbas’s Fatah movement had called for a “day of rage” for Friday.

Muataz Hijazi – a former Palestinian prisoner and member of Islamic Jihad – was shot dead on the roof of his family’s home in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Abu Tor by anti-terrorist police just before 6am on Thursday, as he hid behind solar panels.

Israeli police sources said he had opened fire on them before being killed, a claim his family denied. Hijazi was suspected of shooting and wounding Rabbi Yehuda Glick, an activist who has led a campaign for Jews to be allowed to pray at the al-Aqsa compound.

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