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Thousands defy Israeli security squeeze to reach al-Aqsa on 'Night of Power'

An estimated 350,000 people attend Laylat al-Qadr prayers despite closed roads and additional Israeli checkpoints around the Old City
Palestinians worship outside the Dome of the Rock mosque inside Jerusalem's al-Aqsa compound (AFP)

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians defied a heavy Israeli security presence to gather overnight in Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa compound on the most important night of Ramadan.

The Waqf, the Islamic trust that runs the al-Aqsa compound, estimated that about 350,000 people attended Laylat al-Qadr prayers late on Monday and stayed at the site in Jerusalem’s Old City into the early hours of Tuesday.

Images showed thousands of people prostrating themselves in front of the Dome of the Rock mosque.

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Laylat al-Qadr, or the Night of Power, usually falls on the 27th night of Ramadan and is considered to be an occasion when prayers are especially beneficial. It marks the night on which Muslims believe the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.

Jerusalem’s Old City is illegally occupied by Israel and entry to the al-Aqsa compound, one of the holiest sites in Islam, was tightly controlled by Israeli security forces.

A Middle East Eye reporter said there was a heavy security presence in and around the Old City, with Israeli soldiers and police stationed at checkpoints all over East Jerusalem.

Main roads around the Old City had been closed to traffic, and all buses were being stopped and searched.

Palestinians from the West Bank generally need a permit to enter East Jerusalem, which is hard to obtain.

One boy told MEE’s reporter he had scaled the Israeli separation wall with friends to get into Jerusalem from the West Bank. But he said others had been captured and detained by Israeli soldiers.

An estimated 350,000 people attended prayers on Monday night (AFP)
“Despite all of this, the Old City was full of thousands of people who came to take part in this night,” said MEE’s reporter.

“Children, families, young people, the market was very alive, and it is rare to see it so busy because of the security. It was a happy night despite the occupation.”

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Mahdi Abdul Hadi, the head of PASSIA, a Palestinian academic society, told MEE: “Jerusalem is the capital of all of the people, and it doesn’t matter if you are Muslim or Christian. It’s not the religion, it is part of the Palestinian culture, and no declaration of Jerusalem as the capital [of Israel] will stop people taking part in their cultural life.”

Ramadan this year comes just weeks after the US recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved its embassy to the city in defiance of international convention, and amid weekly protests by Palestinians in Gaza in which scores of people have died since March.

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