Hundreds of police were deployed around the Old City on Friday as thousands gathered for Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa mosque. The prayers came amid heightened tensions over Muslim prayers inside the Gate of Mercy and calls by Islamic leaders to protest on the Temple Mount.
On February 22, Muslim worshipers entered the Gate of Mercy area, a previously closed zone on the Temple Mount, and Israel arrested a senior Islamic Waqf authority official on February 24 in response. Jordan has complained about the incidents. King Abdullah of Jordan is heading to Washington Sunday for meetings and, judging by attempts not to inflame the tensions, neither he nor Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu want escalation in Jerusalem. Nevertheless Friday in the Old City felt tense.On Friday, the worshipers gathered by the thousands around noon time. Israeli police deployed mounted units at Damascus Gate and riot police were on hand, including the elite Yasam special police, to confront any riots. After prayers ended the large crowds of male and female worshipers clogged the alleys of the Old City and the historic Via Dolorosa. Tourists and the Arab crowds pressed against each other, going in opposite directions. Israeli police looked on. Hundreds of vegetable and fruit sellers set up makeshift tables and mats to sell their goods, as they do every Friday, adding to the masses of people and tensions. Dozens of beggars also came to Damascus gate to shout for spare change. Near Lions Gate, where there were clashes in July 2017 over a temporary decision by Israel to install metal detectors following a terror attack, thousands gathered. Several young men tried to incite the crowds. But for the most part the worshipers walked out of the gate without any incidents. Some young teens shouted at the Israeli police, and words were exchanged but it appeared the police had orders to reduce tensions, not escalate the situation. Outside Lions Gate the worshipers walked back to A-Tur, with dozens of buses parked along the street, apparently brought in to bus the worshipers to and from the prayers. Near the Gate of Mercy, adjacent to a large Muslim cemetery, some teens gathered and smoked and talked. Women took photos. Tourists examined the graves. Police units deployed for violence sat and looked on, the men fiddling with their tactical vests and truncheons.