Palestinian worshippers enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Palestinian worshippers enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem. FAYIZ ABU RMELEH

Israeli backdown defuses tensions

THOUSANDS of worshippers have returned to the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem after a two-week standoff over Israeli security measures imposed on the site.

There were clashes with police as Muslims entered the holy compound - known as Temple Mount in Judaism and Haram al-Sharif in Islam - with security forces using stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets in an attempt to control the crowd, injuring 113 people.

Sound bombs were also used as the crowd tried to surge through both the Hutta and Lion's Gates. The violence reportedly broke out after one of the gates was closed in an attempt to control the crowd flow.

Worshippers were urged to return for afternoon prayers on Thursday after the site's religious authority, Waqf, declared it was satisfied Israel had removed new security measures such as metal detectors and CCTV cameras.

Israeli authorities had argued the new security measures were necessary after Palestinian gunmen killed two Israeli police officers near the compound on July 14.

The measures were met with uproar by Palestinians and Muslims across the world, who viewed it as an Israeli attempt to exert more control over the politically sensitive site.

Almost two weeks of tension have followed, including worshippers praying outside al-Aqsa in protest and street clashes that have left at least four Palestinians dead.

In the occupied West Bank, a Palestinian attacker killed three Israeli settlers in their home.

In an effort to de-escalate the crisis, Israel's cabinet voted to dismantle the security on Monday - a rare victory for Palestinians.

International observers had urged both sides to come to a resolution before Friday prayers, which draw tens of thousands of worshippers.

Both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas had previously called for a "day of rage” if the status quo at the site had not been reinstated by Friday. - INM