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Israel restricts entry to Al-Aqsa Mosque for Palestinians on first Friday of Ramadan

The Israeli military blocked roads and installed makeshift checkpoints around the mosque in occupied East Jerusalem, allowing access to small numbers of Palestinians
A Palestinian woman takes part in first Friday prayers of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan at Al-Aqsa Mosque, 16 April 2021 (AFP)

Israeli forces blocked thousands of Palestinians from towns and villages of the occupied West Bank from reaching Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem to perform the first Friday prayer of the holy month of Ramadan.

Ramadan is a month of fasting from sunrise to sunset, observed by hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world.

The Palestinian Wafa official agency reported that Israeli military forces blocked roads and installed makeshift checkpoints from the early hours of Friday around occupied East Jerusalem, allowing only small numbers to pass through.

Around 70,000 Palestinians, mostly residents of East Jerusalem and Palestinians inside Israel, made it through to the Al-Aqsa compound, despite restrictions in the city, according to Wafa.

In the Friday prayer ceremony, Sheikh Ekrima Sabri condemned Israel’s action to cut the wires of the Al-Aqsa minarets’ loudspeakers on Wednesday to prevent Palestinians from raising the call of prayer on the second day of Ramadan, which coincided with Israeli celebrations of Independence Day in the Western Wall Plaza, west of Al-Aqsa Mosque. 

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Jordan, the custodian of Muslim and Christian holy places in the Old City of Jerusalem, sent a letter to Israel condemning police action in Al-Aqsa in damaging the loudspeakers, saying that Israel should “abide by its obligations as an occupying power in occupied East Jerusalem in accordance with international law, to fully respect the historical and legal status quo and to stop provocative actions”.

On Friday, Israeli forces also prevented vehicles from driving close to the Old City of Jerusalem, forcing Palestinians to walk long distances to reach Al-Aqsa. Inside the Old City, Israeli military police installed various metal barriers and inspected the identities of worshippers.

Some Palestinians have been fined by Israeli authorities for not wearing a mask to prevent the spread of Covid-19, and others from the West Bank have been detained for not having a security permit to enter East Jerusalem, according to Wafa.

Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT),  a military unit that runs Palestinian affairs in the West Bank, said that it issued 10,000 permits for Palestinians who had been vaccinated to enter East Jerusalem during Ramadan.

In 2020, Al-Aqsa compound was shut twice, 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, with the site reopening on 18 October. At that time, Palestinians did not perform any Friday prayers during Ramadan in Al-Aqsa.

Al-Aqsa is one of the holiest sites in Islam. Muslims believe that the prophet Mohammed 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 that was changed to Mecca.

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

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