Thousands of Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Israel prayed at Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem on the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan amid heightened Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement.
Israeli forces deployed hundreds of soldiers and police across East Jerusalem, centered on the alleyways and roads leading to the Old City in the early morning hours.
During Ramadan, Israeli authorities permit men above the age of 40, women of all ages, and children younger than 12 years of age from the occupied West Bank to enter Jerusalem without a permit on Fridays.
However, men between 12 and 40-years-old from the West Bank had their Ramadan permits revoked by Israeli authorities following a deadly attack at Damascus Gate outside the Old City last Friday, which left three Palestinian assailants and one Israeli police officer dead.
According to Israeli news site Haaretz, 250,000 Palestinians had their permits revoked. Meanwhile, Palestinians have said they were subjected to “collective punishment” following the attack through road closures, arbitrary searches, and mass detentions.
Israeli authorities permitted several Palestinian buses to transport worshippers from districts in the northern and southern West Bank to Jerusalem city according to previously arranged coordinations with Israeli officials.
Meanwhile, Israeli authorities permitted 100 Palestinians, all of whom were above 55 years-old, from the besieged Gaza Strip to travel to Jerusalem to perform prayers at Al-Aqsa. The trips have been carried out each Friday since the start of Ramadan.
The 100 Palestinians permitted to leave Gaza to Al-Aqsa every Friday is just half of those who were typically allowed to travel to Al-Aqsa throughout the year as part of the ceasefire deal between Palestinian militant groups and Israel which ended the 2014 war on Gaza. Israel suspended Friday Al-Aqsa visits for elderly Palestinians from the besieged coastal enclave in December.
This Ramadan, Israeli authorities cancelled permits allowing residents of Gaza to visit their families in the occupied West Bank and Israel — such permits were issued during the previous two years, according to Gisha.
The group pointed out that almost a third of Palestinians in Gaza have family members residing in the West Bank and Israel whom they are not permitted to see at all.
“Though this renewal of Friday prayer permits is likely to be portrayed as a gesture of goodwill toward the Palestinians, it actually signifies a tightening of the closure on Gaza,” Gisha reported.
“The violation of the rights to freedom of movement and freedom of religion, and the threat of collective punishment if conditions are not met by individual worshippers, only emphasize the punitive and arbitrary nature of the permit regime, as well as the depth of Israel’s continuous control over the Gaza Strip.”