Heavy security as Israel reopens Jerusalem holy site for Friday prayers

Israel reopened a contested Jerusalem holy site on Friday and deployed more than 1,000 security personnel following clashes the previous day between Palestinians and Israeli riot police that had ratcheted up already heightened tensions in the city.

JERUSALEM — Israel reopened a contested Jerusalem holy site on Friday and deployed more than 1,000 security personnel following clashes the previous day between Palestinians and Israeli riot police that had ratcheted up already heightened tensions in the city.

Small groups of Palestinian worshippers made their way through a series of Israeli checkpoints to the site — known to Jews as the Temple Mount and Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary — under leaden grey skies and pouring rain.

No clashes were reported after prayer services ended around mid-day.

However, the Israeli military reported that five Palestinians were injured in a running battle between Israeli security personnel and Palestinian demonstrators at the Qalandiya checkpoint near the West Bank city of Ramallah. AP video footage showed the security personnel firing barrages of tear gas canisters at dozens of rock-throwing Palestinians near the site.

The military also said there were clashes in at least five other West Bank locations, though no injuries were reported.

The holy site in Jerusalem has been a flashpoint for tensions between Jews and Muslims for decades, underscoring the incendiary nature of the religious component in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A visit there by then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon in 2000 set off the last Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule. It remains a potent symbol for the two peoples’ competing territorial claims.

Israeli authorities had said they were limiting access to the site on Friday to Muslim men over 50 in an attempt to dampen the prospects for violence triggered by Thursday’s killing of a Palestinian man suspected of attempting to assassinate a hard-line Jewish activist.

Israeli-American rabbi Yehuda Glick was shot three times late Wednesday but his condition was now said to be improving. Glick has campaigned for more Jewish access to the site, a cherished cause for religious nationalists who resent Israel’s longstanding prohibition on allowing Jews to pray there.

Sparked by the activities of a hard-line partner in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right wing coalition, more and more Jews have been visiting the site in recent months, prompting strong opposition from Muslims who fear greater Israeli influence in Jerusalem, amid accelerated Jewish settlement in the Palestinian part of the city.

Israel’s brief closure of the site Thursday was the first since Sharon’s visit. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas called it a “declaration of war” against the Palestinians and the entire Arab and Muslim world.

Earlier, Abbas had demanded Jews be banned from the site and urged Palestinians to guard the compound from visiting Jews, whom he called a “herd of cattle.”

The site is the holiest place in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam. Jews say it is the location of their biblical temple while Muslims say it is the place from which the prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven.

This latest bout of Israeli-Palestinian tension can be traced back to the abduction and killing of three Jewish teenagers by Palestinian militants in the West Bank earlier this summer and the subsequent murder of a Palestinian youth by right-wing Israeli Jews in Jerusalem. Those slayings helped spawn a 50-day war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip that killed more than 2,100 Palestinians and 70 Israelis.

Since the war ended on Aug. 26, Abbas has been under fire from critics who say that unlike Hamas, he has been too timid in confronting Israel.

On Friday Hamas issued calls for Palestinians in the West Bank to take to the streets to defend the Jerusalem holy site and “not to abandon the Jerusalemites in the battle that is taking place in the holy city.”

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