Last updated: 20 November, 2014

No age bar for Friday prayers at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa

Israeli police said they do not plan to bar young Muslim worshippers from Friday prayers at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque, despite a week of spiralling violence in the city.

It would be the second week running that the restrictions were lifted at the flashpoint mosque compound in annexed Arab east Jerusalem after months of limited entry.

“So far, restrictions on entry of worshippers will not be imposed,” police spokeswoman Luba Samri said in a statement late Thursday.

She said the situation would be kept under review during the night in case a change became necessary.

Israel eased restrictions at the mosque last week after US Secretary of State John Kerry announced agreement on steps to reduce tensions in talks in neighbouring Jordan, which has custodial rights at the compound.

The site, which is holy to Jews as well as Muslims, has been the focus of months of unrest in east Jerusalem, that has spread to the occupied West Bank and Arab communities across Israel, and raised fears of a new Palestinian uprising.

Clashes at the mosque compound are usually led by younger Palestinian men, some of whom earlier this month hurled rocks and firecrackers at police who entered the compound and the Al-Aqsa mosque itself.

In recent weeks, police have tried to preempt unrest by limiting male entry to those over 35 and in the past have barred those under 50.

Police said they had arrested five Arab-Israelis on suspicion of smuggling into Israel thousands of fireworks, knives and other weapons destined for Palestinians in east Jerusalem.

They said that two containers which arrived by sea from China were marked “Christmas decorations” for delivery to the Beit Hanina neighbourhood.


Police also said on Thursday that a November 5 incident in which a Palestinian drove into three soldiers was a deliberate and premeditated attack, and not an accident.

They said that Hamam Masalmeh, 23, was an activist in Islamist militant group Hamas who intentionally ploughed his vehicle into the soldiers outside a West Bank refugee camp, hours after a similar attack killed an Israeli policeman in Jerusalem.

“During interrogation by the Shin Bet (security service), Masalmeh confessed to running down the soldiers as part of a planned attack,” a police statement said.

Masalmeh turned himself in the day after the nightime incident insisting it had been a road accident.

His family said the same and Israeli security officials acknowledged at the time that the possibility was not being ruled out.

There was no Palestinian confirmation that he had confessed.

The Palestinian prisoners club said it had initially followed the case but dropped it on the understanding it was regarded as an accident.

Masalmeh’s family could not be reached for comment Thursday night.

Police said Masalmeh was expected to be charged “within the next few days.”

Months of violence in Jerusalem has escalated in the past week.

On Tuesday, two Palestinians armed with meat cleavers and a pistol killed four rabbis and a policeman at a Jerusalem synagogue in the city’s bloodiest attack in six years.

The assailants were both shot dead by police.

The following day, the mayor of the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon ordered a ban on some Arab municipal workers in what he said was a response to Jewish residents’ anxieties.

Mayor Itamar Shimoni also deployed armed guards at kindergartens adjacent to building sites employing Arab labour.

He said he was freezing “until further notice” a programme to build bomb shelters for kindergartens in the city not far from the Gaza border in which Arab workers were employed.

The order was condemned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and cabinet ministers.