JERUSALEM: Thousands of Muslim worshippers surged into Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque on Thursday and at least 113 were hurt in scuffles with police after Israel lifted security measures imposed at the sacred site in the face of days of violent protests.
Chaotic scenes unfolded as Israeli police used stun grenades to try to control crowds charging forward when the last gate Muslims use to enter Al-Aqsa was opened after a stand-off lasting several hours.
“We will sacrifice ourselves for Al-Aqsa!” chanted the throng outside Islam’s third holiest shrine. Several young men clambered onto the mosque’s roof to affix Palestinian flags, which Israeli police soon confiscated.
Israel’s removal of the security devices, including metal detectors and CCTV cameras, marked a significant climbdown by right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. While Palestinians celebrated, political opponents accused him of weakness.
Netanyahu’s decision followed days of diplomatic effort by the United Nations, the involvement of U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy and pressure from Muslim Arab powers in the region.
One of these, Jordan, continued to fume at Netanyahu over the shooting deaths of two of its citizens by an Israeli Embassy guard in Amman on Sunday. Israel repatriated the guard to a hero’s welcome, saying he had fired in self-defense against an attack that may have been spurred by pro-Palestinian sentiment.
The Aqsa dispute erupted after Israel installed metal detectors at Muslim entrances to the compound, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, following the July 14 killing of two Israeli police guards by gunmen who had concealed weapons inside the walled plaza.
The unannounced move provoked days of unrest, with violent clashes on the streets of East Jerusalem. Israeli forces shot dead four Palestinians, and a Palestinian knifed three Israelis to death in a settlement home in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.