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Israeli forces stop Palestinians attending Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa

Worshippers barred from West Bank entry, with makeshift barriers erected at three gates in East Jerusalem's Old City
Palestinians, unable to reach the Al-Aqsa mosque compound amid strengthened restriction due to the coronavirus, perform Friday prayers in front of the Lion's Gate on 25 September (AFP)

Israeli forces have prevented hundreds of Palestinian worshippers from the occupied West Bank from entering Al-Aqsa mosque to perform Friday prayers, local media has reported.

Makeshift barriers were installed at the Damascus, Herod's and Lion's gates in the Old City in occupied East Jerusalem to prevent access.

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Local media said that Israeli authorities stopped those under 50-years old from entering Al-Aqsa, checking the identities of worshippers and detaining some of them.

Some of those prevented from entering Al-Aqsa were heard chanting "Allah Akbar" (God is great) at the makeshift barriers. 

Despite the restrictions, thousands of worshippers from East Jerusalem were still able to enter the compound and perform Friday prayers.

Israeli tensions

Al-Aqsa compound was shut twice for several months after the coronavirus pandemic hit Israel and Palestine in March. The first closure was in mid-March until 31 May, while the second in September lasted for a month, reopening on 18 October. 

Al-Aqsa is one of the holiest sites in Islam. Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven from there, as mentioned in the Quran. It was also Islam's first Qibla, the direction towards which Muslims must turn to pray, before being changed to Mecca.

The compound is one of the most sensitive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Since occupying East Jerusalem in June 1967, Israelis have prayed at the Western Wall, a remnant from the Second Temple, which is considered the holiest site in Judaism.

Jews are allowed to visit the compound during set hours but, in order to not provoke tensions, they are not allowed to pray there. Nevertheless, Israeli settlers regularly enter the compound, often performing prayers on the site, in an attempt to build support for an increased Jewish presence there.

Palestinians fear Israeli restrictions on entering Al-Aqsa, along with the settler tours inside the compound, may erode their claims to the area - further extinguishing their aspirations for full rights within a state of their own, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Protests against Macron

Following prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque last Friday, Palestinians marched in the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem in protest at French President Emmanuel Macron's defence of the publishing of cartoons of the Prophet, which are deemed offensive to Muslims.

They chanted, "There is no god but God, Macron is the enemy of God", and "Muhammad, your nation will not give in."

Thousands of Palestinians also flocked to Al-Aqsa mosque last week to celebrate the Prophet's birth. 

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