Muslim leaders back continued prayer protests at Jerusalem shrine

Muslim leaders have urged the faithful to keep up their prayer protests and avoid entering a contested Jerusalem shrine, even after Israel dismantled metal detectors which initially triggered the tensions.

Israel said it would replace the metal detectors with new security arrangements based on "advanced technology" to be installed in the next six months - which reportedly refers to sophisticated cameras.

Muslim clerics have demanded that Israel should restore the situation at the shrine - the third-holiest in Islam and the most sacred in Judaism - to what it was before it installed the metal detectors last week.

Clerics said they need time to study the proposed new Israeli measures, but suggested a decision could be made by the end of the day.

Mohammed Hussein, the top Muslim cleric, or mufti, in Jerusalem, said: "We need to know all the details before we decide to pray inside the compound."

Muslim worshippers heeded the clergy's call, with dozens performing noon prayers in the streets outside the shrine on Tuesday.

The continued protests meant that the escalating crisis between Israel and the Muslim world, which began in mid-July, was not defused, even after Israel backed down over the metal detectors.

Jordan, the Muslim custodian of the shrine, has played a key role in trying to end the showdown over the holy site.

Jordanian foreign minister Ayman Safadi said the kingdom wants "calm to return" to the shrine and to see a historic status quo there restored. Israel must "revoke all new measures on the ground", he said.

Jordan's position on the continued Muslim protests and the Israeli security plan was not clear from his comments.

Over the weekend, Jordan's efforts were complicated by a shooting at the Israeli Embassy in Amman, where an Israeli guard killed two Jordanians after being attacked by one with a screwdriver.

A 24-hour stand-off was resolved after a phone call between Jordan's King Abdullah II and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Jordan initially said the guard could not leave without an investigation, but then allowed him and the rest of the embassy staff to leave for Israel late on Monday.

The timing of the events - the evacuation of the diplomats, followed by the removal of the metal detectors - suggested a larger deal had been struck between the two countries. Both Israel and Jordan denied such a trade-off had taken place.

The 37-acre holy site in Jerusalem's Old City sits on the fault line of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has triggered major confrontations before.

Israel had erected metal detectors at the gates to the Muslim-administered site last week after Arab gunmen killed two Israeli police guards there two days earlier.

The move incensed the Muslim world amid allegations that Israel was trying to expand control over the site under the guise of security - a claim Israel denies.

The installation of the metal detectors set off widespread protests and deadly Israeli-Palestinian violence in the past week. Large crowds of Muslims prayed outside the shrine in protest every day, refusing to pass through the metal detectors.

Israel has denied it has a hidden agenda, portraying the metal detectors as a necessary security measure.

However, the Israeli government has come under growing diplomatic pressure to reconsider the decision. It also faced growing domestic criticism that it had acted hastily, without weighing the repercussions of installing new devices at the site.

Israel's security cabinet announced the decision to remove the metal detectors early Tuesday. It said police would increase the deployment of forces until the new measures are in place.

Israel's proposal sparked rumours among Palestinians that the "smart cameras" Israel plans to install could see through clothing and could prove particularly embarrassing to women.

Israeli police said it does not use any type of camera that harms anyone's privacy "and has no intention of using such cameras in the future".

The cameras are to protect public safety, the statement added.


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