Israel lifts Muslim age limits for Jerusalem site

2014-11-14 20:00
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man stands in front of the Dome of the Rock during a visit by a group of religious Jews to the Al-Aqsa mosques compound under Israeli police protection in Jerusalem's Old City. (Ahmad Gharabli, AFP)

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man stands in front of the Dome of the Rock during a visit by a group of religious Jews to the Al-Aqsa mosques compound under Israeli police protection in Jerusalem's Old City. (Ahmad Gharabli, AFP)

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Jerusalem - A Jerusalem holy site at the heart of recent tensions between Israelis and Palestinians was quiet on Friday, police said, after age restrictions for Muslim men who wanted to pray there were lifted for the first time in weeks.

The development came a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Jordan's King Abdullah II in an attempt to restore calm in the holy city.

Police spokesperson Luba Samri said the site was open to Muslims of all ages for weekly prayers. About 40 000 attended prayers and there were no immediate reports of violence, she said.

In recent weeks, police had barred Muslim men younger than 35 to try and quell violent protests by Palestinians, who have clashed with police in response to visits by Jewish worshippers. The visits have stoked fears among the Palestinians that Israel intends to alter decades-old arrangements surrounding access to the site, something Israel adamantly denies.

Samri said police are investigating claims that an 11-year-old Palestinian boy was seriously wounded during a protest on Thursday in east Jerusalem.

Kerry said after Thursday's meeting that Israel and Jordan have committed to a series of "specific and practical" steps to reduce spiralling tensions in Jerusalem and that the Palestinians have pledged to curb incitement and violence, without offering further details.

Long-simmering animosity has boiled over in violent Palestinian protests and attacks that have killed six people and injured more than a dozen others.

Much of the violence stems from tensions surrounding the Jerusalem holy site referred to by Jews as the Temple Mount because of the Jewish Temples that stood there in biblical times. Muslims refer to it as the Noble Sanctuary, and it is their third holiest site, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

Muslim authorities reporting to Jordan have continued to administer the site since east Jerusalem's capture by Israel in 1967. Jews are allowed to visit, but may not pray there. Muslim worshippers view Jewish prayer at the site as a provocation, and Israeli authorities place tough restrictions on it.

Netanyahu has insisted that Israel has no plans to change the arrangements at the holy site.

Azzam Khatib, director general of the, Waqf, Jordan's Islamic authority which manages the site, said "40 000 worshippers came today peacefully and prayed and left the mosque quietly. We hope it's a new page. We will monitor the Israeli performance in the coming days and weeks."

Israeli police said they dispersed about 100 Palestinians who blocked a road near Jerusalem.

Palestinians also clashed with Israeli forces at Qalandia in the West Bank after Muslim prayers, throwing rocks at police and burning tires.

Local media reported that Palestinians had broken through a section of Israel's security barrier. Police said they are investigating.

Read more on:    israel  |  religion

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