Two weeks of tensions and violent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police over a Jerusalem holy site appeared to come a standstill on Friday, following the peaceful conclusion of midday prayers at the al-Aqsa mosque.
The Friday prayers are typically the largest service in the Muslim religious week. Israeli authorities said they feared that the event could dissolve into violence, leading them to restrict access to the site for Muslim men under the age of 50.
"Thank God it was calm and good," said Jerusalemite Said Abu Anan, 67, as he filed out of the mosque compound following prayers. "Hopefully next time our youth can come too."
The prayers ended without any major clashes in the Old City, with small disturbances taking place in a nearby neighbourhood between younger Palestinians, banned from entering the mosque, and police.
Over the past week, four Palestinians have died in clashes with police.
Queueing to enter the mosque were mostly elderly women and men. Sporting colourful prayer carpets draped over their shoulders, the men patiently stood in line as heavily armed police officers kept a watchful eye.
On July 14, two officers were killed by three Israeli Arabs near the sacred complex, known as the Temple Mount to Jews and the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims. After the attack Israel installed metal detectors and other security measures at an entrance to the mosque compound. Palestinians boycotted the mosque, saying they would only return once Israel took down all the security measures.
Following a decision by the Israeli security cabinet, Israel removed the security measures, and as of Thursday night Muslims worshippers began to return to the mosque.
On Friday, pilgrims from Turkey and Palestinians entered the compound for prayers.
Nevertheless, intense security restrictions remain. In the Old City's winding alleyways, police officers stood guard at nearly every intersection. Men were told to remove their hats by police and there were frequent arguments.
A family of US tourists also attempted to enter the site saying they were looking for Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where it is said Jesus was crucified and entombed. "Jesus is that way," a police officer responded, after denying them entry.
Ismail Shkerat, 68, from Jerusalem, said that conflict with Israel over the al-Aqsa mosque wouldn't end until police completely left the site, holy to both Muslims and Jews.
"We want to enter al-Aqsa without police, without barriers, because this is our mosque," Shkerat said, "This creates more pressure."
The sacred compound is the most sacred place in Judaism as it houses the remains of the Biblical temple; it is the third holiest place in Islam after Mecca and Medina.
While metal detectors are common at holy sites around the world, Palestinians say that Israel's decision to unilaterally place the security measures at the contested holy site was an attempt to take over the al-Aqsa mosque, a claim that Israel denies.
"This is a holy place: it not about politics; it's about our rights, history, and religion," said Haneen Sandooka, 24, who lives adjacent to the mosque compound.
On Friday Sandooka did not enter the mosque because police did not open all the gates to the compound. "I will stay outside until everything returns back to the way it was," she said, "This is our gate and we want to enter form here."
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