Palestinians hold Aqsa prayers in largest Ramadhan gathering since COVID

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Thousands of Palestinians streamed to Al-Aqsa mosque in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem on the first Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadhan, in the largest such gathering since the coronavirus pandemic.

Head of the Waqf Islamic Affairs Council Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib said he expected as many as 100,000 arrivals from Jerusalem, the Israeli-occupied West Bank and including Arabs from Israel itself.

It would be the highest number of Ramadhan worshippers at Al-Aqsa since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic more than a year ago, he told AFP.

Last Ramadhan, “They (Israeli authorities) did not allow anyone to enter Al-Aqsa except for me.”

By early afternoon, Palestinian women in headscarves and long robes were seated on the carpeted floor of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound reading Al-Quran. But despite the lifting of some coronavirus restrictions, the sprawling plaza of the compound was far from full.

Palestinians take part in the first Friday prayers of Ramadhan at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City. PHOTO: AFP

Cogat, the Israeli military body that administers the occupied territories, said 10,000 vaccinated Palestinians were issued permits to enter Jerusalem for prayers.

Police shut down roads around Jerusalem as busses loaded with pilgrims drove in.

The Muslim prayers on the first Friday of this year’s Ramadhan follow tensions in the city.

Israeli police spokesman Shimon Cohen said seven people were arrested overnight in Palestinian neighbourhoods near east Jerusalem’s Old City, home of the mosque.

Those arrested had attacked a police officer, who required medical attention for a head injury, and threw stones and glass bottles, he said.