Israel reopens al Aqsa mosque with police out in force

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Israeli police deployed heavily around Jerusalem’s flashpoint al Aqsa mosque compound as it reopened Friday for prayers after a rare closure during clashes over the killing of a Palestinian by security forces.

The streets of east Jerusalem were calm before the prayers at midday but teeming with additional police, including many in riot gear, after an Israeli clampdown on the compound, which is holy for Muslims and Jews alike.

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

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

Police spokesperson Luba Samri said that because of fears of unrest at the prayers, entry for Muslim men would be restricted to those over 50.

Hundreds of police were seen manning a series of checkpoints leading from the Old City’s outer gates all the way to the al Aqsa compound.

Ordinary and riot police 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.

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

Additional police were deployed around the al Aqsa compound in the heart of the Old City, with media reporting the presence of some 3,000 officers, three times more than usual.

The al Aqsa mosque compound – known to Jews as the Temple Mount – is the third holiest site in Islam and Judaism’s holiest.

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