JERUSALEM (web desk) – Israel barred men under 50 from Friday prayers at a sensitive Jerusalem holy site after two weeks of tensions and deadly unrest, leading thousands of Palestinians to hold mass prayers outside.
Thousands of others entered the Haram al-Sharif compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, for prayers after Palestinians ended a boycott of the site the previous day.
Despite fears of violent clashes around the compound, which includes Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, the area was largely calm following Friday s midday prayers.
Dozens of young Palestinians shouted and protested near one entrance to the compound and minor scuffles broke out with police.
Clashes did however erupt between Israeli forces and Palestinians in parts of the occupied West Bank, including in the Nablus, Bethlehem and Hebron areas, the Israeli army said.
A Palestinian also tried to stab soldiers at a junction in the West Bank and was shot dead by Israeli forces, the army said.
And Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian teenager and wounded seven others during clashes near the border fence in Gaza, Palestinian authorities there said.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said 225 Palestinians were wounded, including at least 87 from live or rubber bullets.
Tensions at the holy site were high — even after thousands of worshippers returned to the compound Thursday, ending a boycott over new security measures set up following an attack that killed two policemen.
The outside prayers on Friday were due to the Israeli age restrictions and were not the start of a new boycott, after Israel removed the security measures this week.
By the evening, the gates to the mosque compound were open and Palestinians of all ages were allowed in without any restrictions, an Israeli police spokesman and a Palestinian official said.
“It was a victory for you and for your beliefs and for Jerusalem,” Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Muhammad Ahmad Hussein told worshippers at Al-Aqsa mosque of the boycott.
Police earlier barred men under the age of 50 from praying amid fears of disturbances.
Roads around Jerusalem s Old City, where the mosque compound is located, were closed and some 3,500 police were deployed.
Police said people who tried to stay inside Al-Aqsa mosque overnight were removed.
“It is a cowardly act,” Amjad Hassoun, a young man from Jerusalem, said of the age restriction.
At least 187 people were wounded inside the mosque compound and in adjacent areas as clashes erupted on Thursday, the Red Crescent said. Police said stones were thrown at officers.
Amnesty International said Israeli security forces fired “stun grenades, tear gas and sponge-tipped bullets into a peaceful crowd” at an entrance to the compound.
The Palestinian Prisoners Club said some 119 people were detained and 21 still in custody, including minors, adding that some were beaten by police.
Thousands of worshippers streamed into the compound for afternoon prayers Thursday for the first time in two weeks, ending a boycott after Israel removed new security measures installed following a July 14 attack that killed two policemen.
In previous days, Muslims refused to enter the compound and prayed in the streets outside to protest against the security measures, which Palestinians viewed as Israel asserting further control over the site.
Israeli authorities said the measures, including metal detectors, were needed because the July 14 attackers smuggled guns into the compound and emerged from it to attack the officers.
The United States lauded “the efforts undertaken to de-escalate tensions in Jerusalem”.
Jordan, the custodian of Jerusalem s Muslim holy sites, welcomed the removal of the security measures but said Israel should not provoke Palestinians there.
“Unless Israel acts responsibly, then we ll be facing another crisis that will push us all towards the abyss,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said.
Deadly unrest had erupted in the days after the new measures were introduced, with clashes breaking out around the compound, and in the West Bank, leaving six Palestinians dead.
A Palestinian also broke into a home in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank and stabbed four Israelis on July 21, killing three of them.
Israel removed the metal detectors on Tuesday after intense international diplomacy.
Newly installed railings and scaffolding where cameras were previously mounted were also removed on Thursday.
The removal was seen as a defeat for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had ordered the security measures and was forced to backtrack after warnings the unrest could spiral out of control.
It represented a rare victory for Palestinians, who remained united in their boycott.
Israeli officials said they were to replace the new security measures with “advanced technologies” — widely believed to be smart cameras with facial recognition technology.
The holy compound lies in east Jerusalem, seized by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.
The third-holiest site for Muslims and the most sacred for Jews, it is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has served as a rallying cry for Palestinians.
In 2000, a visit to the compound by then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon helped ignite the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising.