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Jerusalem's Muslims to return to pray at Al-Aqsa

Posted July 27

Jerusalem's Muslim community has been told it can return to praying inside the Al-Aqsa compound after Israel removed the latest security measures from the entrance to the holy site.

Speaking Thursday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas confirmed that prayers would take place at noon, leading to the conclusion of a boycott of the site, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

He added that a meeting of the Palestinian leadership would be held afterward "to discuss other decisions taken in response" to the removal of the security measures.

The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the Imam of Al-Aqsa Mosque say they are satisfied with Israel's removal of security measures.

Muslim religious leaders have called upon worshippers to enter through all gates collectively for afternoon prayers on Thursday.

They also called for all mosques in the area to shut down on Friday and direct worshippers to the Al-Aqsa Mosque instead.

The announcement came after Israeli police said cameras that were installed at the site have been taken down, two days after metal detectors were also dismantled.

Read: Jordan walks a tightrope in Jerusalem

Israel installed metal detectors and security cameras close to the entrance to the sacred site following an attack in which two Israeli police officers were killed.

The Jordanian Authority in charge of the site, the Islamic Waqf, encouraged worshippers to return to prayers Thursday morning inside the compound.

Waqf leaders had not entered al-Aqsa to pray after Israel's decision to install new security measures, and many Muslims follow the lead of the Waqf.

Previous declarations from political and religious leaders had increased the likelihood of widespread demonstrations in and around Jerusalem following Friday's midday Muslim prayers. The demonstrations often turned into clashes between Palestinian protestors and Israeli soldiers, fueling a wave of unrest instead of defusing the situation.

According to police, three of the nine gates leading up to the site are open, with the remaining entrances set to be opened gradually.

The security measures are now the same as they were before the July 14 attack at the site.

"Overnight, throughout the evening, yesterday all the remaining structures and cameras were removed from the area, which were set up after the terrorist attack," Israeli police told CNN.

"At the moment that's the situation on the ground. Police are in and around different areas in the Old City. We are making security assessments leading up to Friday prayers."

Netanyahu threat

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to close Al Jazeera's office in Jerusalem, according to a statement posted on his official Facebook page.

Netanyahu accused the news network of fomenting violence around the Jerusalem security saga.

"I turned to law enforcement multiple times demanding that they close the Al Jazeera office in Jerusalem," Netanyahu wrote in the post late Thursday. "If this does happen through legal means, I will act by the necessary means to remove Al Jazeera from Israel."

In his attempt to ban the Qatar-based network, Netanyahu is perhaps taking his lead from an unlikely source.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have told Qatar to shut down the Al Jazeera network and its affiliates, as part of a list of demands that the Arab states have handed to Qatar as the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf continues.

Saudi Arabia and Jordan have closed down Al Jazeera offices amid the regional spat. The Egyptian Al Jazeera office shut down in 2013.

In June, Israeli media reported that Netanyahu was examining the possibility of closing Al Jazeera's offices in Jerusalem, but such a move would likely face significant legal obstacles because of the country's commitment to freedom of the press.

In response, Al Jazeera said it would take "all necessary legal measures" against the threat.

"While Al Jazeera denounces such arbitrary accusations and hostile statements, it finds it yet another episode of the ongoing vicious attack that, furthermore, has demanded the entire closure of the network by the countries implementing blockade on Qatar," it said in a statement.

Al Jazeera vowed to"continue covering the news and events of the occupied Palestinian territories and elsewhere both professionally and objectively."

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