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Muslim protest continues as Israel reopens Jerusalem's al-Aqsa compound

Xinhua | Updated: 2017-07-18 09:42

Muslim protest continues as Israel reopens Jerusalem's al-Aqsa compound

Muslim worshippers clash with Israeli police during a protest outside Lion's Gate of Jerusalem's Old City at the entrance to the al-Aqsa mosque compound against Israel's newly-implemented security measures, on July 17, 2017. [Photo/Xinhua]

JERUSALEM - Muslim worshippers held protest outside the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem on Monday morning, as Israel reopened the compound to Isaelis for the first time since Friday's deadly assault.

A police statement said the site was opened early in the morning "without special incident". "Hundreds of Muslims have entered the site since the morning."

Outside the compound, dozens of Muslim worshippers refused to enter the site due to new security measures, including CCTVs covering the entire compound, checkpoints and metal detectors at the entrances that Israel had implanted following the shooting attack, which killed two police officers.

A police spokesperson said that a group of about 20 Israelis entered the site after security checks. One of them said that the compound was relatively empty, with few Muslim visitors.

"It is the first time we come here without being escorted by the Waqf (the Muslim authority that administrates the site). Usually, the Waqf people are all around us, today we are here alone," the visitor said.

It was the second day of Muslim protest against what they call a violation of the status quo in the flashpoint compound. On Monday, clashes erupted between worshippers and police outside the compound.

In a shooting attack on Friday morning, three Palestinian Muslims with Israeli citizenship shot dead two Israel policemen near the gates of the compound. The gunmen, all from the Arab city of Umm al-Fahm in central Israel, were subsequently shot and killed by the police.

Immediately after the incident, Israel shut down the compound, saying that security forces need to check the site for more militants or ammunition.

It was for the first time in the past 50 years that Israel closed the compound, which is Islam's third holiest site.

Israel reopened the holy site on Sunday, requiring all visitors to go through security checks through metal detectors that were placed at two gates.

The Waqf, a Muslim religious authority that administrates the compound, rejected the new measures and refused to hold prayers at the mosque.

"This is a gross violation of the status quo, a new reality that neither we nor the Arab street is willing to accept," the legal advisor of the Waqf, attorney Jamal Abu Toami, was quoted as saying by Army Radio.

Ir Amim, an Israeli human rights group, warned that the new measures, including the two-day closure of the site, have "disturbing implications for a status quo."

According to a statement issued by the group, Israeli security forces made "unilateral decisions" about access to the compound without the participation of the Waqf, establishing "a clear change to the status quo."

The introduction of metal detectors and security checks "imposes Israeli sovereignty in violation of arrangements established and respected since 1967," the organization said, urging leaders to take steps "as soon as possible to restore cooperation between Israeli security forces and the Waqf."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that he had decided to reopen the site with increased security measures but promised to "maintain the status-quo."

Israel seized East Jerusalem, where al-Aqsa is located, along with the rest of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during the 1967 Middle East war. Israel subsequently annexed East Jerusalem, claiming it part of its "eternal and indivisible" capital, in a move never recognized internationally.

The compound site is holy to both Muslims, who revered it as the Noble Sanctuary, and Jews, who know it as the Temple Mount. Jews revere the site as the place of their historic temples, the last of which was ruined by the Romans in 70 AD.

Due to the special sensitivity, the Muslim Waqf is responsible for the administration of the site. Israeli Jews are allowed to visit the site but not to pray there.

In recent months, far-right Israeli lawmakers renewed their calls to change the long-held status quo and to lift the restrictions on Jewish prays, escalating the tensions in and around the compound.

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