Israel to bar some from al-Aqsa mosque prayers

Palestinian men under the age of 50 will be barred from Friday prayers to prevent possible clashes with Israeli police

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Israeli will limit access for Muslim men to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound during Friday prayers to prevent possible clashes following services, Agence France-Presse reported the country’s police as saying.

Men under the age of 50 will be barred from Friday prayers, based on intelligence of plans for unrest, with security forces bolstering their presence in the area, Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.

The decision comes after police clashed with stone-throwing Palestinians at the compound on Tuesday, hours ahead of a debate in the Israeli parliament on Jews’ right to pray at the compound, which is currently denied.

The discussion, which did not result in a vote or any practical measures, sparked fury in the Muslim world, with the parliament of Jordan -- the custodian of the site -- voting to expel Israel’s envoy and its premier warning Amman might review its peace treaty with Israel.

And the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation on Wednesday condemned the debate as a “dangerous escalation,” calling it part of Israel’s goal to “Judaize Jerusalem.”

The flashpoint compound sits above the Western Wall plaza and houses the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque, and is Islam’s third-holiest site.

It is also Judaism’s holiest place, being the site of the first and second Jewish temples.

Obama and peace talks

Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama will take stock of peace negotiations in upcoming Oval Office meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on March 17, Reuters reported the White House as saying Thursday.

The Obama administration had originally hoped to help broker a deal by April 29.

But on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he hopes at best to get Israel and the Palestinians to agree on a “framework” for an agreement by that time.

A final deal may take another nine months or more, Kerry said.

The framework would guide further talks, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

“The parties are talking about the core issues, including borders, security, Jerusalem, refugees, mutual recognition, an end of conflict, and an end of claims,” he said.

“We believe that the framework will be a significant breakthrough, as it would represent a common picture on the outlines of the final status agreement.”

(With AFP and Reuters)

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