Israel has placed a temporary ban on Muslim men under the age of 50 from entering Jerusalem's Temple Mount amid widespread calls by Islamic leaders to stage mass protests on Friday, 21 July. The Israeli police have also confirmed metal detectors will also remain at the entrance of the compound as part of the security arrangements.
Heavy security measures were clamped at the site, known as the al-Aqsa mosque and considered holy by Muslims, after three Arab Israeli men recently launched a surprise attack on security forces in the zone. The deadly shootout saw two Israeli police officers and all three assailants losing their lives.
As the incident fuelled tensions in the area, Israel's security cabinet empowered the police forces to take necessary measures to prevent any untoward incident. This allowed the police to install metal detectors on Friday, 14 July triggering protests from Palestinians, who allege these infringe the status quo at the site and seen as punitive measures.
On Friday, 21 July, the police have clarified that the metal detectors will not be removed and added young Muslim men will also not be allowed entry. Authorities said their decision came "in light of the events of recent days, which included violent riots near the gates of the Temple Mount and at other sites in villages in East Jerusalem".
"Entry to the Old City and Temple Mount will be limited to men aged 50 and over. Women of all ages will be permitted," added the police.
The police statement comes hours after Israeli prime minister's office issued an order clarifying the powers bestowed on the police. "The cabinet has authorised the Israel Police to make any decision in order to ensure free access to the holy sites while upholding security and public order," read a statement from Benjamin Netanyahu's office.
Thousands of police personnel have deployed to the Old City to avert mass protests turning into violent riots. Friday prayers are usually the busiest time at the Temple Mount with tens of thousands of worshippers taking part.
The latest clampdown comes hours ahead of expected protests after top Muslim leaders and the Palestinian group Hamas have called for mass demonstrations against the security measures.
"To the Zionist enemy, I say openly and clearly: al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem are red lines. Truly they are red lines. To the enemy I say, your policy of closure and imposition of collective punishments against the residents of Jerusalem and our places of sanctity will not be tolerated," said Hamas leader Ismail Haniya.