Palestine lifts ban on prayers at Al-Aqsa

Palestinians in Jerusalem celebrate the removal of all security measures at the Al-Aqsa mosque, following nearly two weeks of violent protests.

JERUSALEM (BLOOMBERG) - Palestinian government and religious leaders called off their ban on prayers at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound after Israel removed contentious security devices it installed there, dialling back a violent confrontation over a site also revered by Jews.

"Noon prayer will take place at the Al-Aqsa mosque," Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in a televised address.

The Islamic trust that administers the complex under Jordan's auspices also approved the resumption of Muslim prayers there.

Worshippers had been instructed to stay away from the mosque until Israel removed metal detectors, security cameras and crowd-control barriers placed after Israeli Arab gunmen killed two Israeli policemen at the site two weeks ago.

While political tensions were eased, what remains to be seen is whether the violence over the security devices will also subside. Outbursts of unrest linked to the shrine become magnified by competing Israeli and Palestinian claims to it.

The hilltop complex is the most contested piece of land in their conflict, owing to its sacredness as Islam's third-holiest shrine and as the holiest site in Judaism - Temple Mount.

Although Israel insisted the devices were a security precaution, the Palestinians saw them as a sign it was tightening its grip over the holy site and, by extension, the Israeli-occupied eastern sector of the city they claim for a future capital.

In the week after their placement, four Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli security forces and three Israelis were stabbed to death by a Palestinian who broke into a West Bank settlement home. Palestinian leaders had called for a "day of rage" in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Israeli Arab communities today.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2017, with the headline 'Palestine lifts ban on prayers at Al-Aqsa'. Print Edition | Subscribe