Israel imposes new restrictions on Al-Aqsa as anticipation of widespread clashes grows

Hours after thousands of Palestinians entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem, after a near two-week long boycott of Israeli security measures imposed at the site, Israeli forces imposed a new series of sweeping restrictions on the compound Friday morning.

Israeli police spokeswoman Luba al-Samri said in a statement that only men above the age of 50 would be allowed into the compound, while no restrictions would be placed on women.

Hebrew-language media reported that the restrictions were ordered by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli forces remained heavily deployed across the compound and inside the Old City of Jerusalem, as well as in “seam zones” across the occupied West Bank in anticipation of heavy clashes following Friday prayers.

Al-Samri said that forces were deployed “upon receiving information that some extremist sides are planning to disrupt order, harming public security,” adding that Israeli forces are also deployed on all roads leading to Al-Aqsa.

Al-Samri also added that Sultan Suleiman Street and the area around the Old City would be closed off to vehicles on Friday.

Israeli forces had raided Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam,Thursday evening following sunset Maghrib prayers, and detained some 100 worshipers from inside the mosque, while firing rubber-coated steel bullets, stun grenades, and tear gas at the crowds in the compound, causing dozens of injuries.

An estimated 30,000 Palestinians performed prayers inside Al-Aqsa Mosque Thursday evening after all gates of the holy site were reopened — though the Remission Gate (Bab al-Hutta) and King Faisal Gate were closed again shortly after clashes began.

The clashes came just hours after Israeli forces reopened all the gates to the compound on Thursday afternoon, in what was celebrated as a victory by Palestinian Jerusalemites who had been participating in a 13-day long civil disobedience campaign against Israeli-imposed security measures at the holy site.

Following a deadly shooting at Al-Aqsa on July 14, Israeli authorities installed metal detectors, turnstiles, and cameras at the entrances to the compound, while most of the entrances to the compound remained closed.

The measures sparked widespread protests in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, as Palestinians said the 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.

Despite victorious celebrations across East Jerusalem on Wednesday night and Thursday, tensions quickly returned as forces raided the compound. The closure of the gates and new restrictions imposed as of Friday have left many in anticipation of widespread clashes across the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israeli news outlet Arutz Sheva reported on Thursday that Israeli police chief in Jerusalem Yoram Halevy had threatened Palestinian worshipers should they keep up with mass demonstrations.

“If they try to disrupt the order tomorrow, there will be casualties,” Halevy said. “Do not try us. We know how to react vigorously.”

Meanwhile, Palestinian Minister of Religious Affairs Sheikh Yousif Adeis called upon all Palestinians who are able to head to Al-Aqsa Mosque for Friday prayers, despite all Israeli procedures.

Adeis said in statement that the coming days should be used to “prove what the Jerusalemites have accomplished with their determination and popular resistance against unfair Israeli procedures.”