Palestinians celebrate as Israel removes Aqsa security measures
Palestinians had gathered to pray en-masse near the Old City's Lions Gate entrance late in the evening, part of what they say is a coordinated non-violent campaign over the past twelve days to protest new Israeli security measures put in place following the killing of two Israeli policemen on July 14.
Early on Thursday, Israeli forces removed newly installed railings and scaffolding where new security cameras had previously been mounted, although it is unclear if all new measures had been taken down.
Palestinians gathered around the Old City in large crowds to celebrate, with whistling, chanting, and the sound of car horns filling the air.
Others set off fireworks as Palestinian flags were waved among the crowds.
For twelve days and nights, Palestinians in Jerusalem have initiated a mass campaign of civil disobedience in defiance of Israeli security measures, which are widely viewed as an attempt to assert control over the holy site.
In addition to boycotting entry to al-Aqsa, thousands have led sit-in protests and held daily prayers in the Old City, filling the streets with worshipers.
With Palestinians in Jerusalem politically leaderless, the mass non-violent movement has been led by religious leaders and community organisers.
The removal of Israeli security measures at the site will be viewed as a victory for this civil society movement, although it is unclear whether Muslim authorities would now grant approval for worshippers to re-enter the site.
There had been concerns that Friday's main Muslim prayers, which draw thousands to al-Aqsa, would lead to a serious escalation in the crisis.
Crisis with Jordan, PA
In addition to deadly clashes, tensions at al-Aqsa sparked a diplomatic crisis with Jordan, the official custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.
The Palestinian Authority also suspended security coordination with Israel, a cornerstone of Israel-PA relations, saying the suspension would continue until the site was returned to the way it was before the crisis began.
The al-Aqsa mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, is in East Jerusalem, seized by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.