Israeli police have said they will only allow men over the age of 50 to pray at the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City Friday, in a move likely to draw outrage from the city’s Muslim community.
Women of all ages will be allowed to pray at the site, which Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary and is known to Jews as the Temple Mount.
“Heightened security around Temple Mount & old city to prevent disturbances. Extra police units in the area and will respond to any incidents,” Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said on Twitter.
The decision comes in the aftermath of clashes between Muslim worshippers and Israeli security forces Thursday, the latest unrest to emerge since two police officers were killed close to the entrance of the holy site on July 14.
Israeli authorities labeled the shootings as a terrorist attack. Three Arab men from northern Israel were shot and killed by police while carrying out the attack.
Israeli authorities responded by installing security cameras and metal detectors. The decision to install the measures, seen as a unilateral step by Israel, angered the Muslim community in Jerusalem and the region.
Following days of deliberations, Israel removed the extra security measures early Thursday. The move was supposed to defuse the tension in Jerusalem and quiet a growing diplomatic rift with Jordan, which has custodianship of the holy site.
But any hopes of quelling the growing tension with Jordan were soon dashed. On Thursday, Jordan’s King Abdullah II slammed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, tweeting that the Prime Minister’s conduct “angers us all, threatens regional security & fuels extremism.”
Tensions on the streets of Jerusalem remain high, with occasional confrontations between Muslim worshippers and Israeli police erupting Thursday, when worshippers agreed to enter the site for the first time in two weeks after the removal of the security measures. But delays in opening at least one of the gates to the al-Aqsa compound devolved into occasional clashes.
Israeli police threw stun grenades and smoke grenades, while some protestors threw stones and plastic water bottles.
Israeli police arrested dozens of Palestinian protestors Thursday night who had barricaded themselves inside the al-Aqsa mosque and refused calls to leave from both police and Islamic Waqf — the Jordanian authority in charge of managing the site — police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.
Before the age restrictions were announced, authorities said they expected more clashes Friday, as Muslims leaders in Jerusalem asked mosques to close for Friday prayer so that worshipers go to al-Aqsa.
For Palestinians, the removal of the security measures is seen as a measure of victory, and Friday’s prayer will have a tone of celebration. Israel’s decision to take down the metal detectors and security cameras is largely viewed as a capitulation — both by Israelis and Palestinians.
Friday is the day of assembly prayer for Muslims, and Israeli authorities have, in the past, barred younger men from praying at the site, calling it a security measure.
The site is also home to the Dome of the Rock — where the prophet Mohammed is said to have ascended to heaven — and the Western Wall, the last remaining piece of the Second Jewish Temple.