Tel Aviv- More than 5,000 police forces and special units in the Israeli army and intelligence services were deployed 24-hours prior to Friday prayers around the Old City’s Al-Aqsa mosque and at some entrance gates as well as Greater Jerusalem in order to prevent “victory celebrations” by the Palestinians following Israel’s removal of its security measures on the gates of a sacred compound in Jerusalem known as the Temple Mount in Judaism and Haram al-Sharif in Islam.
Forces seemed to have strict instructions saying that any citizen celebrating victory must be arrested and that every form of protest is prohibited.
Police were also prepared for the possibility of renewed confrontations with the Palestinians in Jerusalem after the end of Friday prayers and in other locations in the occupied West Bank.
Although Israeli intelligence objected to these measures, saying they were useless and it would be difficult to restore calm to the streets and achieve security and stability, the police, backed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, insisted on applying them to prove their strength.
The soldiers followed the children who insisted on praying outside the mosque. Officers in the Central District Command said the process would take a few weeks, yet the police dismissed this assumption, stating that using strength is a major mean for ending the protests.
Then, the police, which repressed the protesters, decided to retaliate against those who celebrated victory and reduce the number of worshipers by force.
It first imposed restrictions on worshipers by preventing entry to those under the age of 50, and it set barriers to prevent the arrival of worshipers from the West Bank. Even the Muslim Palestinians in Israel of 1948 were prevented from leaving their villages and cities to pray at Al-Aqsa.
Netanyahu held talks with the defense minister, minister of internal security and commanders and adopted the stance undertaken by police. He ordered the deployment of more border guards.
He also gave orders for the army to reinforce its forces in a number of Palestinian neighborhoods and villages surrounding Jerusalem such as Ras al-Amoud and Shu’fat refugee camp, where they expected confrontations to take place.
Netanyahu has been trying to halt the unrest while not appearing to his hard-line base as caving into Arab demands. He has been criticized by nationalist members of his coalition government who accused him of capitulation.
Some Israelis said Netanyahu did the right and smart thing by de-escalating the tension, but members of his government criticized him for what they saw as a weakness in the face of Palestinian opposition and violence.
Official spokesmen tried to deny the news in Israeli press, emphasizing differences between the intelligence services and the army on the one hand and between the police and the government on the other hand regarding the form of dealing with the Palestinian recent protests.