Palestinian worshipers hold a mass prayer in the streets of East Jerusalem as an act of civil disobedience after Israel implemented new entry arrangements for Al-Aqsa Mosque, Wadi Joz, East Jerusalem, July 21, 2017. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Thousands of Palestinians join Al-Aqsa vigil in Jerusalem

Thousands attended the evening prayer Wednesday outside Al-Aqsa. The worshippers arrived in recent hours, joining the dozens of Palestinians already at the flashpoint site who have set up outside al-Ḥaram al-Šarīf (the Noble Sanctuary) in recent days, some only leaving to go home to sleep.

Many men and youths are at the scene, handing out food and beverages that were donated by local stores and private individuals to aid the protest vigil. As of the early evening, no clashes were reported.

Many of the peaceful protestors said they would not evacuate the area until “the situation is restored to how it was two weeks ago,” that is, prior to security measures implemented following an attack that killed two policemen and resulted in temporary closure of al-Ḥaram al-Šarīf. Worshippers are not prevented from entering the holy site, but they refuse to do so mainly in light of Israel’s declaration to install security cameras.

No individual has been seen entering or exiting the site. Israeli Police continue to deny journalists access to the area outside the compound, while civilians approach it freely.

On Tuesday evening, clashes broke out at the site, and, according to Palestinians, some 30 people were hurt outside the Lions Gate, with one person sustaining serious injuries.

Israel’s security cabinet decided Monday night to remove the metal detectors that had led to a wave of protests amongst Palestinians and throughout the Arab world, but to leave the security cameras that had been installed. On Tuesday morning, the Waqf, trust responsible for the site’s administration, announced that it would send a committee to the site in order to review the situation before submitting a report on the matter, but its position in the interim remained “to reject outright any changes, including technological measures.”

Some of the worshippers on Tuesday laid out prayer mats around the entrance to Al-Aqsa without going inside and spent the day like this.

During prayers, no one seemed to have crossed the checkpoint into Al-Aqsa. One of the worshippers at the site claimed that no one had prayed inside the Al-Aqsa compound that day.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced that his Sunday decision to halt security coordination with Israel has not changed.

According to Palestinian activists in Jerusalem, the real decisions are taken on the ground, and its leadership would not be able to impose policies without widespread public support.

The Al-Azhar Institution in Cairo, the most senior Sunni institution in the Arab world, commented that the measures taken by Israel in the compound and around the Al-Aqsa Mosque are void according to Islamic Sharia and international law. Al-Azhar is considered an institution that inspires many Muslim clerics in the Arab world, and its message supports the Waqf in Jerusalem.

Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, commented that the decision to replace the metal detectors with smart cameras is disrespectful towards the Muslim worshippers and an insult to their intelligence. He added that these measures violate the privacy of worshippers and desecrate the sanctity of prayer.