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Coronavirus: Palestinians suspend prayers at mosques, churches

According to Palestinian health officials, 38 coronavirus cases have now been confirmed in the occupied West Bank
Muslims pray outside Dome of the Rock Mosque at Al-Aqsa compound in the Old City of Jerusalem last week (AFP)

The Palestinian Authority (PA) suspended prayers in mosques and churches in the occupied West Bank on Saturday to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, and Gaza's Hamas rulers said all the enclave's border crossings would be closed to travel.

The PA's religious affairs ministry asked Palestinians to worship at home, Reuters reported.

"In light of the health ministry's recommendation to minimise contact between people and to reduce gatherings as much as possible, we call upon our Muslim people in Palestine to hold their prayers at home," a ministry statement said.

In Ramallah, a prayer leader reciting the Muslim call to prayer at one mosque in the early evening added the words: "Pray at home, pray at home."

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Last week, Middle East Eye reported that the PA has declared a state of emergency in the occupied West Bank and locked down Bethlehem after seven cases of the new coronavirus were confirmed in the city.

According to Palestinian health officials, 38 coronavirus cases have now been confirmed in the occupied West Bank, where the Palestinians have limited self-rule under the Palestinian Authority. None have been reported in the densely populated Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas.

The Hamas-led government said it was closing Gaza's border crossings with Israel and Egypt for travel, excluding life-threatening cases that required medical treatment outside the enclave. Gatherings would be limited to 100 people and schools were to remain shut through March.

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Citing security reasons, Israel and Egypt keep the coastal Gaza Strip under a blockade with tight control of movement over their borderland crossings.

Religious authorities have so far kept Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is Islam's third-holiest site, open for prayers.

The Jordan-appointed council that oversees Islamic sites on Jerusalem's sacred compound has kept it open for Friday prayers, encouraging the faithful to congregate on the 35-acre complex's outdoor grounds rather than inside its covered shrines.

The Waqf council reassured worshippers in a statement this week that the entire compound, including its golden Dome of the Rock shrine, was being "sterilised continuously".

In Israel, where 164 coronavirus cases have been confirmed, gatherings have been limited to 100 people. Some religious authorities in the Holy Land, including the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, have moved to implement crowd controls at places of worship.

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