Palestinians refuse to pray at Jerusalem mosque

Continuing security measures by Israeli police at al-Aqsa prompt Muslims to stay away

Palestinian Muslim worshippers pray outside Jerusalem’s Old City on July 25th as Muslim officials say worshippers should continue to boycott the al-Aqsa mosque compound. Photograph: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images

Palestinians are refusing to pray at the al-Aqsa mosque at the Haram al -Sharif compound in Jerusalem's Old City despite the removal of metal detectors by Israel after a week of protests.

The detectors were removed on Tuesday amid intense pressure from the Arab and Muslim world, but metal railings and scaffolding erected by the Israeli police are still in place where the metal detectors stood, and Muslims again stayed away in protest on Wednesday.

Israel also plans to instal smart surveillance cameras on the compound in the coming months but the Palestinian leadership has also rejected such a move. Following Palestinian rumours, the Israeli police issued a statement denying they plan to instal X-ray cameras that can identify suspicious objects concealed under clothing.

"The Israel Police does not use any type of camera that harms privacy in any way and has no intention of using such cameras in the future. The purpose of the cameras is to protect and guard public safety," it said.


Smuggled guns

Israel insists the stepped-up security measures are necessary after two police officers were shot and killed at the site earlier this month by Israeli Arabs who used guns smuggled into the al-Aqsa mosque.

The Palestinians have accused Israel of attempting to change the status quo on the sacred plateau which is administered by the Wakf Islamic Trust.

Dozens were injured in fresh clashes at the entrance to the Old City on Tuesday night.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction has called for Muslims to "intensify the popular struggle" over the site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, the site of two ancient Jewish temples. Mr Abbas said he will maintain the freeze on contacts with Israel, including security co-ordination, unless all measures go back to what they were before July 14th.

Avi Dichter, a former head of the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), who chairs the Knesset's foreign affairs and defence committee, said Israel had decided to "turn the Temple Mount into a sterile area – with all that this entails".

The United Nations Middle East envoy has warned that tensions over the holy site must ease by Friday, or risk spreading "well beyond" Jerusalem.

Friday prayers

Speaking after a special closed-door UN security council session to discuss the crisis, Nikolay Mladenov warned the dangers on the ground will escalate if they go through another cycle of Friday Muslim prayers without a resolution.

“Nobody should be mistaken that these events are localised events. In fact, they may be taking place over a couple of hundred square metres, but they affect millions if not billions of people around the world,” he said.

Right-wing commentators in Israel criticised the government for removing the metal detectors and 100 settlers occupied a large building in the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron. Shlomo Levinger, a spokesperson for the settlers, said the decision to occupy the structure was made in response to "government zig-zagging" regarding violence surrounding the Temple Mount.