Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

Israel bars Palestinians under 50 from entering Al-Aqsa mosque

Holy sites are a focal point as tensions rise over expanding Israeli settlement in occupied East Jerusalem

Tension remained high in Jerusalem on Friday as Israeli authorities imposed strict restrictions on Palestinians seeking to enter the Al-Aqsa mosque, preventing men under age 50 from coming into the compound, local media reported. 

No restrictions were in place for female worshippers, according to an Israeli police statement issued Thursday night. It added that nearly 3,000 policemen and border guard soldiers would be deployed across Jerusalem on Friday. Israel had closed Al-Aqsa compound Thursday following clashes that broke out after the shooting of a right-wing Jewish activist at a rally in Jerusalem the previous evening. Yehuda Glick, who survived the attack, was a proponent of strengthening Israeli control over the site of the Al-Aqsa mosque, where some Jewish activists hope to eventually rebuild the Second Temple.

Mindful of the potential for conflict at Islam's third-holiest site provoking a cataclysmic confrontation, Israeli authorities have sought to maintain a delicate status quo at Al-Aqsa since occupying East Jerusalem in the war of 1967. Right-wing Jewish groups have been agitating ever more vocally against their government's restrictions on their access to the area — Glick was attacked at a conference of Israeli groups pressing to change the rules on what Israel calls the Temple Mount. For his part, Palestinian Authority President  Mahmoud Abbas called Al-Aqsa a “red line” and branded Israel's closure of access on Thursday an “act of war.” Al-Aqsa had provided the spark that ignited the last major Palestinian uprising — the second intifada — which began in August of 2000 with protests triggered by a controversial show of force on the Temple Mount by then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon, who later became prime minister.

On Thursday after Glick's shooting, Israeli forces shot and killed Mutaz Hijazi, a Palestinian man suspected in the assassination attempt. In response, various Palestinian factions called for a “Day of Rage” on Friday.

About 300 people attended Hijazi’s funeral Thursday night in his home neighborhood of Silwan, an area that has seen increasing instances of Israeli settlers taking over Palestinian homes and apartments. Tensions have escalated in recent months in response to settler encroachment in Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem — a development encouraged by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in line with Israel's attempt to cement its control over the occupied part of the city it considers its "eternal, undivided capital." 

Hijazi’s mother told Maan News that her son had been detained by Israel when he was 17 years old for “participating in intifada activities." She questioned why Israeli forces killed him instead of arresting him. Israeli authorities have said they killed the suspect after coming under fire when they had surrounded his house. 

Hijazi’s family said they are now worried that Israel may demolish their home, Israeli news website Haaretz reported. It is a form of collective punishment Israel routinely carries out with the families of suspects in crimes against Israel, according to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, which said hundreds of homes have been demolished for this reason since 1967.

Many fear the wider conflict over Jerusalem's status is likely to escalate, with Israel seeking to deepen its grip on the occupied parts of the city. Israel annexed East Jerusalem after the war of 1967, but its claim to sovereignty there is not internationally recognized. The status of Jerusalem was designated a final-status issue in the now-dormant peace process between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, but even when final status negotiations were underway at Camp David in 2000, Jerusalem proved to be one of the most intractable differences between the two sides. 

With wire services

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