Thousands of Muslims from the Israeli-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem converged on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound today to pray on the second Friday of Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month, Anadolu Agency Reported.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from Jerusalem, Israel, the occupied West Bank, and Gaza Strip attended prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque on the second Friday of the holy month of Ramadan, despite widespread measures taken by Israel against Palestinian freedom of movement across the occupied territory.
Only men over 45 and children under 12 — along with women of all ages — were allowed by the Israeli army to enter occupied East Jerusalem without entry permits.
Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib, head of the Jerusalem Waqf (Islamic Endowment) that runs Al-Aqsa, told Anadolu Agency that over 200,000 worshipers prayed in Al-Aqsa, who began their journeys at dawn to the holy site in occupied East Jerusalem.
“We’re expecting at least 150,000 worshipers at Al-Aqsa for iftar [the Ramadan fast-breaking meal] and Taraweeh prayers,” he said.
Palestinian men above the age of 45 and women of all ages were permitted to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, while Palestinian men under 45 were only allowed entrance if they held Israeli-issued permits to attend prayers.
Some 200 residents of the blockaded Gaza Strip — all over 60 years old — were also allowed to enter Jerusalem on Friday, after having been barred last week in response to a shooting attack in Tel Aviv that left four Israelis dead.
The Israeli authorities, meanwhile, stepped up security around the flashpoint religious site, deploying more than 3,500 policemen and erecting roadblocks at the entrances of Jerusalem’s Old City.
They also deployed a helicopter and a surveillance blimp to monitor the situation in and around the mosque compound.
According to Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), 67,511 of the total worshippers entered from the occupied West Bank.
Witnesses entering Jerusalem from the West Bank saw Israeli forces refuse entry to hundreds of Palestinian youth at checkpoints for lacking the necessary permits.
Meanwhile, 300 Palestinians from the besieged Gaza Strip were permitted on Friday to visit the mosque, after their weekly visitation was suspended last week following a deadly shooting in Tel Aviv.
Israeli authorities also revoked more than 83,000 permits allowing Palestinians to enter Israel and occupied East Jerusalem in response to the attack.
Israeli forces reportedly erected several checkpoints throughout the Jerusalem on Friday and routinely checked the identification of Palestinian youths.
During the sermon delivered at the mosque, Sheikh Muhammad Salim Ali praised the worshipers who traveled to Al-Aqsa saying, “the fact that these groups have come from all areas of Palestine is evidence of the unity and closeness of our people.”
Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani, the director of Al-Aqsa Mosque, called on the thousands of Palestinians to continue making the journey to Al-Aqsa and to keep the mosque filled with Muslim worshippers, despite Israel’s checkpoints.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank during the 1967 Middle East War. It later annexed the city in 1980, claiming it as the unified capital of the self-proclaimed Jewish state — a move never recognized by the international community.
International law views the West Bank and East Jerusalem as occupied territories, considering all Jewish settlement building on the land as illegal.