Israel eases Al-Aqsa restrictions for second week

 Israel eased age restrictions for Friday prayers at Jerusalem`s flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque for a second straight week, allowing tens of thousands to attend despite high tensions following a wave of violence.

Jerusalem: Israel eased age restrictions for Friday prayers at Jerusalem`s flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque for a second straight week, allowing tens of thousands to attend despite high tensions following a wave of violence.

Police were out in force to prevent a repeat of clashes, led by young Palestinians, that have rocked the Holy City for months.

"The police are on stand-by in different areas to respond if necessary to any disturbances... there are extra units in and around the Old City," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.

Palestinian men and women of all ages shuffled into the Al-Aqsa compound, holy to both Muslims and Jews, as police carefully checked the identity cards of younger worshippers.

Clashes at the site are usually led by younger Palestinian men, some of whom earlier this month hurled rocks and firecrackers at police who entered the compound and the Al-Aqsa mosque itself.

The Palestinians have been infuriated by a far-right Jewish campaign for prayer rights at compound that threatens an ultra-sensitive, decades-old status quo under which Jews can visit but not pray.

Police had tried to preempt unrest by limiting male entry to those over 35.

But Israel eased the restrictions at Al-Aqsa last week after US Secretary of State John Kerry announced agreement during talks in Jordan on steps to reduce tensions in the city.Wasel Qassem, 35, said the lifting of the age bar might gradually help calm tempers.

"Restrictions were the main cause" of tension, said the radiotherapist who was able to pray at the site for the first time in several weeks.

"Al-Aqsa is an obvious cause for another intifada," or uprising, he said, adding that a spate of Palestinian attacks in Jerusalem was perceived as "revenge or defence" of the compound.

The site, the third-holiest in Islam and the holiest to Jews who call it the Temple Mount, has been the focus of months of unrest in Israeli-annexed Arab east Jerusalem.

Israel controls entry to the site in the heart of east Jerusalem`s Old City, although it is administered by Jerusalem`s Muslim authorities while Jordan acts as custodian.

Israel is struggling to contain a spike in unrest in annexed Arab east Jerusalem that has seen a growing number of deadly attacks by Palestinians.

On Tuesday two Palestinians killed five people at a synagogue in west Jerusalem before being shot dead by police -- an incident that took place far from Al-Aqsa and flashpoint eastern neighbourhoods.

The attack, the bloodiest in the city for years, followed a spate of "lone-wolf" attacks, including two incidents in which Palestinians ploughed cars into pedestrians in Jerusalem, killing four people.

The lifting of the age restriction appeared to calm tensions around the site last week, and early Friday there were none of the habitual clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli police.

But under the surface, Palestinian resentment simmered.

"The age limitations are only lifted because it`s to their (Israel`s) benefit," said 23-year-old Amir, an engineer who had come from Ramallah in the West Bank to pray at the site for the first time since June.

"People are afraid of coming. The situation here is very risky," he said.

Fellow worshipper Bilal underlined the importance of the site for Palestinian Muslims, attributing months of tension to perceived Jewish attempts to take it over.

"Al-Aqsa is very important. A lot of people would die for it," he said.

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