Israeli forces began dismantling security measures installed at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem late on Wednesday night, in what was celebrated as a victory by Palestinian Jerusalemites, as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Thursday that prayers could resume at the compound.
Following a deadly shooting at Al-Aqsa in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem on July 14, Israeli authorities installed heightened security measures at Al-Aqsa,sparking a widespread civil disobedience campaign among local Palestinians, who have been met with violent repression at the hands of Israeli forces.
Palestinians have said the new Israeli move was the latest example of Israeli authorities using Israeli-Palestinian violence as a means of furthering control over important sites in the occupied Palestinian territory and normalizing repressive measures against Palestinians.
The Israeli security cabinet decided on Monday night to remove the recently installed metal detectors at Al-Aqsa, only to replace them with more advanced surveillance technology in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem — a move which was denounced by Knesset member and Palestinian citizen of Israel Jamal Zahalqa as “a new provocation.”
On Wednesday night, hundreds of Palestinians gathered at the compound’s Lions’ Gate after hearing that Israeli forces had removed barricades and scaffolding in the area, rejoicing and chanting until the fajr dawn prayers.
Israeli forces deployed at Lions’ Gate used repressive measures against worshipers celebrating, and attempted to prevent journalists from covering the event, witnesses said.
Eyewitnesses added that Israeli authorities removed at dawn all scaffolding, and barriers at Lion’s Gate and the nearby al-Ghazali Square, transferring them outside of the Old City as thousands of Jerusalemites performed prayers outside the compound.
The worshipers chose to continue praying outside of the compound on Thursday morning, as they have done for nearly two weeks, stressing that they would not enter Al-Aqsa until the Islamic Endowment (Waqf), the religious institution in charge of the compound, issued a final report certifying that all security procedures imposed since July 14 were removed.
“Palestinians have presented martyrs, prisoners and wounded besides daily peaceful protests and prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque’s gates, which all together forced the occupation to take back its decision and procedures taken at Al-Aqsa’s gates,” Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani, the director of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, said.
“Everyone is eager to pray at Al-Aqsa and enter the mosque, and we want to enter it with dignity but are asking for patience until the committee’s report comes out,” al-Kiswani added.
Following a meeting with the Waqf on Thursday, Abbas announced that prayers could resume at Al-Aqsa, adding that Israel had removed all recent security material at Al-Aqsa.
On Wednesday evening, before the security measures were removed, Israeli forces had suppressed thousands of worshipers performing the night-time ishaa prayer outside Lions’ Gate, firing stun grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets at the crowd, and injuring at least four, the Palestinian Red Crescent told Ma’an News.
In the span of ten days, four Palestinian demonstrators have been killed by Israelis and more than 1,000 others have been injured, as Israeli NGO B’Tselem accused Israel of displaying “sweeping disregard” for Palestinian lives in East Jerusalem.
Israeli forces have raided Palestinian hospitals, closed off parts of East Jerusalem’s Old City, carried out massive detention campaigns, and violently clashed with Palestinians across East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, leaving Palestinian journalists, medics, and children injured in the process.