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Muslim Leaders: Return to Shrine       07/27 06:04

   JERUSALEM (AP) -- Muslim leaders told the faithful to return to pray inside 
a major Jerusalem holy site on Thursday after Israel removed security devices 
it installed outside entrances to the shrine following a deadly Palestinian 
attack at the compound.

   Thousands of Palestinians had been praying in the streets outside the shrine 
to protest the security measures since the crisis began.

   "After extensive discussion and after achieving this victory in this round 
we call on our people in Jerusalem and inside (Israel) and anyone who can 
access the Al-Aqsa Mosque to enter ... en masse," the Islamic leaders declared 
in a statement.

   The head of the Supreme Islamic Committee, Ikrema Sabri, said the first 
prayers would be held there Thursday afternoon.

   Abdel Azim Salhab, of the Waqf, Jordan's religious body that administers the 
site, said "We call on Imams to close all mosques in Jerusalem Friday in order 
for all worshippers to pray Friday prayer in Al-Aqsa mosque only."

   Friday prayers are the highlight of the Muslim religious week. Thousands of 
Muslims from around the country and Palestinian areas typically worship at the 
holy compound in Jerusalem's Old City.

   Slahab said all devices had been removed from the entrances but didn't know 
if security cameras that had been mounted on the wall of the compound were also 
dismantled. He said if they are there then "we reject it."

   Israel installed the new security measures earlier this month after 
Palestinian gunmen shot and killed two police officers from within the site.

   It said the security measures were necessary to prevent more attacks and are 
standard procedure to ensure safety at sites around the world. Palestinians 
claimed Israel was trying to expand its control over the site.

   The issue sparked some of the worst street clashes in years and threatened 
to draw Israel into conflict with other Arab and Muslim nations.

   Palestinians danced, chanted "God is Great" and set off fireworks after some 
security devices were removed early Thursday morning. It dismantled metal 
detectors there earlier this week.

   Israel removed the devices under intense pressure and said it plans to 
install sophisticated security cameras instead.

   But Palestinian politicians and Muslim clerics had insisted that wasn't 
enough and demanded Israel restore the situation at the shrine in Jerusalem's 
Old City to what it was before the July 14 attack.

   The fate of the site is an emotional issue at the heart of the conflict 
between Israel and the Palestinians. Even the smallest perceived change to 
delicate arrangements pertaining to the site sparks tensions.

   Israel's decision to add security measures there outraged Muslim and 
triggered protests, and low-level clashes have continued in and around 
Jerusalem in the days since.

   The continued standoff highlighted the deep distrust between Israel and the 
Palestinians when it comes to the holy site.

   Jews revere the hilltop compound in Jerusalem's Old City as the Temple 
Mount, site of the two Jewish biblical temples.  It is the holiest site in 
Judaism and the nearby Western Wall, a remnant of one of the temples, is the 
holiest place where Jews can pray.

   Muslims believe the site marks the spot from which the Prophet Muhammad 
ascended to heaven. It is Islam's third-holiest site after Mecca and Medina in 
Saudi Arabia.

   The latest development could put Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu 
in a tough spot as he tries to tamp out a wave of unrest that has triggered 
international pressure while not appearing to his hard-line base as 
capitulating.

   A senior member of Netanyahu's coalition government criticized Israel's 
dismantling of the security devices warning it could spell more violence.

   Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home party, told Army Radio that 
"every time the state of Israel folds in a strategic way we get hit with an 
Intifada. You seemingly benefit in the short term but in the long term you harm 
deterrence."

   The Islamic militant group that rules Gaza praised the move. Izzat Risheq, a 
senior Hamas leader, tweeted that Palestinians achieved a "historic victory." 
He said "Today, our people celebrate the removal of the gates (security 
measures), tomorrow they will celebrate the removal of the occupation itself."


(KA)

 
 
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