OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Palestinian Christians and pilgrims from around the world made their way down the cobbled Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem Friday, where Jesus Christ is believed to have walked to his crucifixion.
Thousands of worshippers, some bearing wooden crosses, walked through the walled Old City to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site where they believe Jesus was crucified and buried before rising from the dead three days later.
Elsewhere in the Old City, Israeli police limited access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, fearing more unrest after days of clashes.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said men under the age of 50 were barred, but there were no restrictions on women.
Dozens of Palestinians were wounded in clashes with police at the site Wednesday and Sunday after Jewish visitors were allowed onto the compound.
The compound, which hosts the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosques, is Islam’s third holiest site.
Jews believe that the mosque compound is on the site of the first and second biblical temples, their holiest place, and refer to it as the Temple Mount.
It has frequently been a flashpoint in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The tension over Al-Aqsa has compounded the challenges of the ongoing U.S.-led peace talks. State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said this week that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are striving to reach an agreement to extend the talks beyond their April 29 deadline.
Negotiators met U.S. envoy Martin Indyk Thursday and Friday to try to find a way to extend the faltering talks.
Thursday’s meeting in a Jerusalem hotel ended after five hours of “very difficult discussions,” a Palestinian official said.
“The gap [between the parties] is still wide. There was no breakthrough,” added the source.
EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton called on Israel to bolster the flagging talks by reversing recent actions in the occupied West Bank.
Ashton viewed with “great concern” an Israeli decision to declare an area near the Gush Etzion settlement south of Bethlehem as state land and approval of a new Jewish settlement in the southern city of Hebron, a statement from her office said Friday.
The continued demolition of Palestinian property and the confiscation of EU humanitarian aid were also worrying, Ashton added.
Earlier this month, an EU official said Israel had demolished several EU-funded humanitarian housing shelters in a highly sensitive strip of West Bank land near Jerusalem.
“The EU calls on the Israeli authorities to reverse these decisions,” Ashton said.
Such events are “not conducive to the climate of trust and cooperation needed for the current peace negotiations to succeed,” she added.
Ashton also said she “condemns the recent killing of an Israeli man in the West Bank and calls for an immediate end to all acts of violence.”