ISRAEL has yielded to days of growing Palestinian street protests by removing all additional security measures around the compound housing al-Aqsa mosque, following the removal of metal detectors earlier this week.
The reversal marks a victory for a campaign of civil disobedience that saw Palestinians refuse en masse to enter the compound, one of the city’s most revered sites, choosing to pray instead in the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City.
The remaining additional security measures that had been installed by Israel in the last fortnight – including barriers and infrastructure for new cameras – were removed by workers in the early hours of Thursday amid mounting fears of unrest during what were expected to be large protests around Friday prayers.
“The police returned the security measures to how they were before the terrorist attack at the Haram al-Sharif before 14 July,” a police spokeswoman, Luba Samri, said in a statement.
The move sparked celebrations by young Palestinians, and local residents came out to hand out sweets in the streets. Muslim leaders in Jerusalem told worshippers to end their boycott of entering al-Aqsa and return to the mosque to pray.
On Wednesday night Israeli police took a far more conciliatory approach at the main Lions Gate entrance to the compound, where they had previously been quick to respond to any problems by clearing the streets with stun grenades.
There have been signs that the prayer protest movement – which drew thousands each night to largely non-violent gatherings – has given an unusual sense of empowerment to Palestinians in east Jerusalem who have long lived without their own political institutions under Israeli occupation.