70,000 Muslim worshipers flock to Jerusalem for prayers on the first Friday of Ramadan

70,000 Muslim worshipers flock to Jerusalem for prayers on the first Friday of Ramadan

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Tens of thousands of Muslim worshipers attended the first Friday prayers of the holy month of Ramadan at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, in the largest such gathering since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib, head of the Waqf’s Islamic affairs council, told AFP that around 70,000 worshipers have come from Jerusalem, the West Bank and Arab communities inside Israel.

During Ramadan last year, under the pandemic, “they [Israeli authorities] did not allow anyone to enter Al-Aqsa except me, ”he said.

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Police closed the roads around Jerusalem on Friday as buses loaded with worshipers arrived. But the huge square in the complex was far from full.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the Israeli military body that administers the West Bank, said 10,000 vaccinated Palestinians had received permits to enter Jerusalem to pray this year.

Friday prayers took place as tensions mounted in the capital. Police have been heavily deployed around Jerusalem’s Old City in anticipation of possible unrest after three consecutive nights of riots in the area.

The month of Ramadan normally sees heightened tensions around the Old City of Jerusalem, which is home to the Temple Mount site, a sacred place for Jews and Muslims.

A Palestinian woman raises her arms in prayer as she takes part in the first Friday prayers of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan outside the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem on April 16, 2021 (Credit: Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

The past three days have seen nightly clashes in East Jerusalem, with tensions erupting over the police’s decision to prevent people from sitting on the stairs outside the Damascus Gate, as part of the coronavirus restrictions.

Palestinians were also angry earlier this week after Israel allegedly disconnected the power supply to the speakers emitting the Islamic call to prayer on the Temple Mount, around the time an official Memorial Day service was being held. took place on Tuesday evening in the adjacent plaza of the Western Wall.

Palestinians clean the floor of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City ahead of the holy month of Ramadan on April 10, 2021 (Jamal Awad / Flash90)

Tensions are also mounting in East Jerusalem over fears that Israel will prevent the region from participating in the Palestinian national parliamentary elections scheduled for next month. Israel has cracked down on Palestinian Authority activity inside Jerusalem, viewing it as a violation of its sovereignty in its capital.

At least two police officers and five civilians were injured in clashes in East Jerusalem this week, in which rioters threw firecrackers, stones and glass bottles at cops and passers-by, police said.

Clash between Israeli border police and Palestinians outside the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem, April 15, 2021 (Jamal Awad / Flash90)

Police spokesman Shimon Cohen said seven people were arrested overnight in Palestinian neighborhoods near the Old City. Those arrested attacked a policeman, who needed medical attention for a head injury, and threw stones and glass bottles, he said.

Video posted online showed people kicking the windows of a police vehicle in East Jerusalem and officers firing stun grenades.

The Temple Mount has long been a flashpoint, and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces have at times turned to death.

Israel captured the compound and the rest of Jordan’s Old City in the 1967 Six Day War, but the Waqf, which is funded and controlled by the Jordanian government, continued to administer the site. Israeli security forces are present on the mountain and work in coordination with the Waqf. Jews are allowed to visit, but unlike Muslims, they are prohibited from praying in the Temple Mount lands.

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