Israeli police escort Jewish visitors to Jerusalem's Al Aqsa

Young Palestinians cleared from mosque compound as tensions remain high after 11 days of war

Israeli security forces detain a man at the entrance of Jerusalem's Al Aqsa mosque compound on May 21. AFP
Israeli security forces detain a man at the entrance of Jerusalem's Al Aqsa mosque compound on May 21. AFP

Israeli police escorted more than 250 Jewish visitors to a flashpoint holy site in Jerusalem on Sunday, where clashes between police and Palestinian protesters helped trigger a war in Gaza, according to the Islamic authority overseeing the site.

The 11-day conflict between Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers came to a fragile halt on Friday, but left behind immense ruin in the coastal enclave, including hundreds of homes that have been completely destroyed and many more that were badly damaged, according to the UN.

With tension still high, police cleared young Palestinians out of the Al Aqsa Mosque compound and barred entry to Muslims under the age of 45, according to the Islamic Waqf, which oversees the site. Those that entered were required to leave their IDs with police. It said six Palestinians were detained, with four later released.

Israeli police denied there was any age restriction and said they arrested five people who “violated the public order”. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the site was open for “regular visits” and police had secured the area.

The visits ended without any further incident.

Israeli police had briefly clashed with Palestinian protesters after Friday prayers in an early test for the truce, which had taken effect hours earlier. The ceasefire in Gaza has held, but violence in Jerusalem could set off another cycle of escalation.

The Waqf said Sunday was the first time Jews had been allowed to visit the site since May 4, a week before the war broke out.

Al Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site in Islam. It sits on a sprawling hilltop in Jerusalem’s Old City that is revered by Jews as their holiest site because it was the location of biblical temples.

The site has often been the scene of Palestinian-Israeli violence over the years and was the centre of the Palestinian intifada, or uprising, in 2000.

Israeli police repeatedly clashed with Palestinian protesters at the site in the days leading up to May 10, when Hamas fired long-range rockets at Jerusalem, saying they were protecting the city in the wake of the skirmishes.

The threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families from the nearby neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah was also cited as another major trigger of the violence.

In recent years, increasing numbers of religious and nationalist Jews have visited the site.

Palestinians fear Israel plans to eventually take over the compound or partition it.

The Israeli government has repeatedly said it has no intention of changing the status quo, in which the Waqf oversees the site under Jordanian custodianship.

Updated: May 23, 2021 08:23 PM

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