With tempers at a near-boil in Jerusalem and fears of a new Intifada growing, Israel allowed Muslim worshippers over the age of 50 to attend prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque on Friday. Authorities had closed the site for the first time in over 14 years after a particularly violent week in which a number of noteworthy shootings and riots took place.
The half-step of partially reopening the site, which is holy to both Muslims and Jews, seemed to attenuate the highly volatile political moment. On Thursday, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had called the closure of the Temple Mount "a declaration of war" and, as Reuters reported, Abbas' political party urged Palestinians to turn Friday into a "Day of Rage."
Instead, among heightened security in Jerusalem's Old City, several thousand Palestinian worshippers prayed at the holy site and there were few reports of disturbances. Fittingly enough, the unexpected calm may have been propelled by a supernatural force taking the form of, as the Times of Israel noted, "intermittent heavy rains in the city."
However, while Jerusalem was calm, the West Bank did experience some clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli troops in a number of cities including Ramallah, Hebron, Bethlehem and Nablus.
Despite word of the ongoing diplomatic dispute between the United States and Israel, the Israeli decision to reopen the Temple Mount compound may have been influenced by an American plea. On Thursday evening, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated a call for a lessening of tensions in the region, which included a demand for Israel to reverse its closure of the site, where Jewish prayer currently remains banned.
"The Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount must be re-opened to Muslim worshipers and I support the long-standing practices regarding non-Muslim visitors to the site, consistent with respect for the status quo arrangements governing religious observance there.”
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