As Israeli officials moved to “gradually reopen” the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem for afternoon prayers Sunday after three days of closure, officials from the Islamic Endowment (Waqf) that runs the holy site refused to pass through new metal detectors that were installed at the compound’s entrances — though Israeli police said at least 200 people had entered.
The attempt to reopen the compound came upon an order from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after it had been closed following a deadly shooting attack inside the compound that left two Israeli border policemen killed and three Palestinian assailants shot dead on Friday.
After discussions with “top security leadership,” Netanyahu announced additional security measures at the holy site, including the installation of the metal detectors as well as security cameras outside the compound.
Netanyahu lauded the measures as giving Israel “almost complete control over what goes on there.”
Israeli news daily Haaretz cited Israeli police sources as saying that at first, Israeli authorities planned to open only two of the compound’s nine gates to Muslims, and that only Palestinian residents of Jerusalem would be allowed to enter. Later in the day, foreign tourists and Jewish visitors would also be allowed at the site.
Earlier on Sunday, director of Al-Aqsa Mosque Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani voiced his disapproval of the measures while speaking to the Voice of Palestine radio station, saying “it is a dangerous and unprecedented move to impose control over Al-Aqsa mosque.”
When Israeli authorities attempted to reopen the mosque at 12:30 p.m. before afternoon prayers, Waqf officials refused to pass through the metal detectors.
Haaretz reported the Waqf also refused to unlock the gates as a further act of protest, which could not immediately be independently confirmed by Ma’an.
However, Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld wrote in a statement that 200 people had entered the compound as of 1:15 p.m.
He said extra police units were deployed in the area “to prevent any incidents,” and that “police will respond to any incident if necessary.”
As of Sunday morning, Israeli authorities had continued to ban the ‘adhan,’ or Muslim call to prayer, in the mosque and prevented worshipers from entering the mosque, forcing them to perform dawn prayer in the street.
The entirety of the Old City has been shuttered to Palestinians who don’t reside there since Friday, while Israelis and tourists have been allowed to enter undisturbed, Haaretz reported Saturday.
Worshippers who came to pray Sunday from different areas of Jerusalem told Ma’an that they were forced to perform prayers at “the closest points to the mosque.”
Some of them were able to reach the gates of the Old City, others were able to reach nearby neighborhoods such as Wadi Joz, while residents of the Old City itself performed morning prayers outside of the gates of Al-Aqsa Mosque gates.
Firas al-Dibs, spokesperson for the Waqf told Ma’an earlier Sunday morning that Israeli authorities had been contacting a group of Al-Aqsa mosque’s guards and ordered them not go to the mosque.
Palestinians and Israeli police clashed outside of the compound on Saturday evening, as tensions remained high, given that the weekend’s closure was reportedly the first time the compound had been closed off to Muslims since 2014 and the first time since 1967 that Palestinians were restricted from attending Friday prayers.
Following the closure, Palestinian citizens and leaders expressed their outrage at the move, demanding that the closures be lifted, and warned Israel of taking steps that could “change the historic status quo in Jerusalem and the mosque. ”
Following Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel has maintained a compromise with the Islamic trust that controls the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound to not allow non-Muslim prayers in the area. However, non-Muslims are permitted to visit the site during designated times.
Palestinians have long feared that Israel has been attempting to shake up the status quo at the holy site, in the shape of routine Jewish incursions on the site and right-wing Israeli calls to demolish the mosque and replace it with a third Jewish temple.