For the first time since two Israeli policeman were shot and killed at Jerusalem's Temple Mount compound on July 14, thousands of Muslim worshippers entered Al-Aqsa Mosque on Thursday to pray. Over 100 Palestinian worshippers and one police officer were wounded in clashes as police tried to disperse the masses of worshippers arriving at the site.
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According activists from the Waqf, the Muslim custodian of the flashpoint site, Israeli police forces entered the compound late Thursday evening from the southern side of the Al-Aqsa Mosque to clear out those barricading themselves inside. A number of people were reportedly wounded, including one who was allegedly shot in his leg with live rounds and taken to a hospital.
A few dozen young Palestinian protesters locked themselves within the mosque. According to the police "there were a number attempts through the Waqf to get the youths out of the mosque, when this failed police tried to order them out at this stage they locked themselves inside and refused to leave." Police then entered the compound and a number of them were arrested.
There were doubts as to whether prayers would take place at Al-Aqsa Mosque after the director of mosque, Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani said earlier in the day that Muslims would continue to refuse to enter the Temple Mount until the last of the gates leading to the compound, the Huta Gate, was opened. The Huta Gate is in the vicinity of the site at which the policemen were killed.
Following negotiations between the Waqf, the Muslim trust that administers the holy site, and the Israel Police, the Huta Gate was opened. Thousands gathered in a long line to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Some worshippers clashed with security forces at the entrance to the site, with the police using crowd dispersal means. The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said 115 Palestinians were wounded, of them 15 were evacuated to hospital. Police said that one police officer was wounded.
Stones were also thrown from a mountain towards the Western Wall and a Palestinian flag was hoisted onto one of the mosques. The police have since dispersed the riots and the site has returned to relative quiet.
Meanwhile, Palestinian health services claimed that a 26-year-old that was wounded in clashes three days ago died of his wounds. The Palestinians identified him as Mohammad Annan who was wounded after being hit in his head with a bullet in clashes in the West Bank.
After the July 14 attack, Israeli authorities imposed increased security measures at entrances to the site, including installation of metal detectors which prompted the ire of Muslim authorities and protesters across Jerusalem and the West Bank and led Muslims to refuse to enter the compound to pray.
The government resisted the pressure and clashes erupted between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, in which four Palestinians were killed. On Friday, three members of an Israeli Jewish family were stabbed to death in the West Bank settlement of Halamish by a Palestinian assailant from a nearby village.
When Israel backtracked on the measures, including removal of security cameras, it paved the way for prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque to resume.