TEL AVIV – Violent clashes with Israeli security forces erupted as thousands of Palestinian Muslims returned on Thursday to the Temple Mount for afternoon prayers at the Al Aqsa Mosque in celebration of Israel’s removal of all security measures installed at the site since a terror attack there saw two Israeli-Druze policemen murdered by three Arab gunmen two weeks ago.
Initially, some worshipers argued in favor of maintaining the boycott because the Hula gate, one of the 11 gates through which Muslims are allowed to enter the compound, remained closed. However, the gate, which was the one used by the gunmen to smuggle in their weapons, was eventually opened and the boycott was lifted as cheers rose up from a thousand Palestinian protesters outside the gate.
Earlier in the day, the Mufti of Jerusalem Mohammed Hussein announced that Muslims could return to pray at the site since the metal detectors – which caused an uproar across the Arab and Muslim world – along with other security measures had been removed. The detectors were put into place in direct response to the Palestinian terrorist attack at the Mount almost three weeks ago in which three gunmen were able to infiltrate the site with weapons.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also gave the green light to return to the holy site after the 12-day boycott, and according to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa, Abbas reassured Palestinians that everything had returned to the way it was before the attack on July 14. Abbas has yet to walk back comments made Wednesday in which he said that his imposed freeze on security coordination between the PA and Israel would remain in place despite the removal of the metal detectors.
Wafa reported that Abbas “praised the steadfastness of Jerusalem Muslims and Christians in the face of the Israeli measures against Al Aqsa and said their stand was such that the right would prevail and the wrong would pass away.”
PLO executive committee member Wasel Abu Yusuf told the Jerusalem Post that Israel’s removal of the security measures was testament to the “great achievement for the defenders of Al Aqsa and for the Palestinian people against all the efforts to solidify the occupation against the blessed Al Aqsa mosque.”
“All the sons of the Palestinian people are called to come to the blessed Al Aqsa mosque for prayers,” he added.
Thursday’s return to the Temple Mount marks the end of a violent and bloody boycott in which Palestinians took to rioting in the Old City on a daily basis. “Remember Khaybar, you Jews, the army of Muhammad is returning,” was a threat heard chanted in unison by the rioters, in reference to a seventh century Muslim massacre of Jews. The Palestinian leadership called on Muslims to embark on a “campaign for Jerusalem” and “reclaim control of Al Aqsa Mosque.”
Abbas had claimed the installation of metal detectors was “falsely presented as a security measure” while in reality Israel wished “to take control of the Al Aqsa Mosque.” His Fatah faction added that the security changes were part of a “racist” ploy to “Jewify and take over Al Aqsa.”
Even after the metal detectors were removed, Abbas’s Fatah faction still called for Muslims to “intensify the popular struggle” for Jerusalem. Referring to the security cameras Israel said it would install in lieu of the metal detectors, Fatah said the “espionage cameras are a violation of freedom of worship” and vowed that “With our blood we will thwart the Zionists’ plans.”
Both Hamas and the PA have made several calls for Muslims to participate in “Days of Rage,” the most recent being on Wednesday. Similar calls last week resulted in the murder of three members of the Salomon family from the West Bank settlement of Halamish who were stabbed to death at their Sabbath table by a Palestinian terrorist who said he was avenging Israel’s actions on the Temple Mount.