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Israel reopens Al Aqsa Mosque amid tight security

By AFP - Nov 01,2014 - Last updated at Nov 01,2014

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — Israeli occupation forces deployed heavily around Jerusalem's flashpoint Al Aqsa Mosque compound as it reopened Friday for Muslim prayers after a rare closure during clashes over the killing of a Palestinian by Israeli forces.

The streets of East Jerusalem were calm before the prayers at midday but teeming with additional security forces, including many in riot gear, after an Israeli clampdown on Al Haram Al Sharif, the third holiest shrine in Islam.

Clashes had erupted early Thursday when Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian accused of trying to kill Yehuda Glick, a hard-line rabbi linked to tensions at the compound.

The closure was the first for decades and prompted a spokesperson for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to condemn the move as an Israeli “declaration of war”.

Israeli security spokesperson Luba Samri said that because of “fears of unrest” at the midday prayers, entry for Muslim men was restricted to those over 50.

Hundreds of security personnel were seen manning a series of checkpoints leading from the Old City’s outer gates all the way to Al Aqsa compound, an AFP correspondent said.

Ordinary and riot security officers checked identity papers of people passing between the barricades, both those on their way to pray at the site and those who worked nearby.

Female officers were deployed to stop and search Muslim women.

Zuheir Dana, 67, said he was unable to get from his shop to his home.

“I wanted just to get home, which is about 50 metres away from Al Aqsa compound, but [security forces] didn’t let me through,” he said.

“[They] are stopping and searching whoever they please according to how they perceive the atmosphere. They’re not letting in men over the age of 50, they’re only letting in men over the age of 60.”

“It’s been bad every day here since Ramadan,” he added, referring to the Muslim fasting month which this year fell in July.

Markets in the Old City, normally bustling on a Friday morning, were nearly deserted due to the security lockdown.

Additional forces were deployed around Al Aqsa compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, in the heart of the Old City, with media reporting the presence of some 3,000 officers, three times more than usual.

Clashes subsided late Thursday with a few sporadic confrontations between stone-throwing Palestinians and Israeli forces firing rubber bullets and tear gas. Three Palestinians were arrested, Samri said.

The funeral of Muataz Hejazi, who was suspected of shooting and critically wounding the rabbi on Wednesday night, passed off without incident, she added.

The hospital treating Glick said the Jewish hardliner’s condition was slightly improved Friday but that his life was still in danger.

Jerusalem has been shaken by months of unrest sparked by the murder of a Palestinian teenager in July in revenge for the killings of three Jewish teenagers in the West Bank.

A 50-day Israeli war on Gaza in July and August intensified protests and clashes in the Holy City.

Al Haram Al Sharif and adjacent East Jerusalem neighbourhoods outside the Old City walls have been the scene of the latest violence in the city, and the site itself is a rallying point for Palestinian resistance to Jewish attempts to take control of it.

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