More than 200 Palestinians from the besieged Gaza Strip traveled to occupied East Jerusalem to attend Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, according to Palestinian liaison officials, According to Palestinian local agencies.
The officials said that 250 Palestinian worshipers, all above the age of 50, traveled to Jerusalem via the Erez crossing between the besieged enclave and Israel to attend prayers, before immediately returning to the Gaza Strip.
The number of Palestinians permitted to worship at Al-Aqsa was reduced by Israel in recent weeks, as Israeli authorities have typically permitted 300 elderly Palestinians from the small Palestinian territory to travel to Al-Aqsa every Friday.
Sheikh Abu Sneineh reiterated Muslims’ firm rebuff of Israel’s interference in reconstruction works at al-Aqsa and in the affairs of the Islamic Awqaf (Endowment) department in Occupied Jerusalem.
The Imam called for intensifying presence at al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock in response to Israel’s arbitrary measures against Muslim worshipers. “Enough is enough!” Sheikh Abu Sneineh told the Israelis. “Jerusalemites will never forfeit a single inch of their holy city, land, and places of worship. You’d better stop playing with fire.” He urged the Israeli occupation authorities to release the bodies of slain Palestinian youths.
He further called for keeping to the morals of peace and compassion advocated by the Islamic faith and for healing the national rift once and for all. Sheikh Abu Sneineh’s sermon was released in the presence of 45,000 Muslim worshipers who flocked to Occupied Jerusalem to perform noon prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque.
Tight security measures were, meanwhile, imposed by the Israeli occupation intelligence across Occupied Jerusalem and around the al-Aqsa. A few hours earlier, an abrupt sweep launched across Occupied Jerusalem culminated in the abduction of 18 Palestinian youths and the closure of the main entrances to the Old City under the pretext of an anti-occupation stabbing attempt at 3 a.m.
A spokesperson for the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Israeli agency responsible for implementing Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territory, said at the time that Israeli authorities decided to reduce the quota of permits for Palestinians to travel to the Al-Aqsa Mosque for prayers as a result of Hamas and other groups “choosing to use the crossing permits given to them illegally.”
The spokesperson added that the decision would continue to be reviewed “in accordance with the conduct of the Palestinians and their choice to respect the agreements with Israel.”
Visitations of elderly Palestinians from Gaza were implemented as part of a ceasefire agreement that ended Israel’s 2014 offensive on the besieged enclave. However, due to Israeli security concerns and Jewish holidays, visitations have been frequently interrupted since their introduction.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque, cherished as the third holiest site in Islam, is located in East Jerusalem, a part of the internationally recognized Palestinian territory which has been occupied by the Israeli army for almost 50 years.
It is also venerated as Judaism’s most holy place, as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, and some Jewish extremists have called for the destruction of the Al-Aqsa Mosque so as to build a Third Temple in its place.
The majority of the more than 1.8 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are sealed inside the coastal enclave due to a near-decade long military blockade imposed by Israel and upheld by Egypt on the southern border.