Israeli police stand guard as Muslim men pray outside the Al- Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem yesterday. Picture: AP
BETHLEHEM: As Israeli officials moved to “gradually reopen” the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem for prayers yesterday after three days of closure, Islamic Endowment (Waqf) officials who run the holy site refused to pass through new metal detectors installed at the compound’s entrances - although Israeli police said at least 200 people had entered.

The attempt to reopen the compound was ordered by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after it had been closed following a shooting attack inside the compound that left two Israeli border policemen and three Palestinian assailants dead on Friday.

After discussions with “top security leadership”, Netanyahu announced additional security measures at the holy site, including the metal detectors and security cameras outside the compound.

Netanyahu lauded the measures as giving Israel “almost complete control over what goes on there”.

Israeli news daily Haaretz cited Israeli police sources as saying that at first Israeli authorities planned to open only two of the compound’s nine gates to Muslims, and that only Palestinian residents of Jerusalem would be allowed to enter.

Later, foreign tourists and Jewish visitors would also be allowed at the site.

Earlier yesterday, director of Al-Aqsa Mosque Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani voiced his disapproval of the measures on the Voice of Palestine radio station, saying “it is a dangerous and unprecedented move to impose control over Al-Aqsa mosque”. When Israeli authorities tried to reopen the mosque at 12.30pm before afternoon prayers, Waqf officials refused to pass through the metal detectors.

Haaretz reported the Waqf also refused to unlock the gates as a further act of protest.

However, Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld noted that 200 people had entered the compound as of 1.15pm.

He said extra police units were deployed in the area “to prevent any incidents” and “police will respond to any incident if necessary”.

As of yesterday morning, Israeli authorities had continued to ban the “adhan”, or Muslim call to prayer, in the mosque and prevented worshippers from entering the mosque, forcing them to perform dawn prayers in the street.

The entirety of the Old City has been shut down to Palestinians who don’t reside there since Friday, while Israelis and tourists have been allowed to enter undisturbed, Haaretz reported. - Ma’an