Thousands took part in a mass Friday prayer service at the al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem's Old City on Friday, in violation of COVID-19 restrictions, after a permitted protest against French President Emmanuel Macron's recent remarks on Islam.
In the days leading up to the demonstration, organizers called on Muslims through social media to participate in the event. The Jerusalem police knew in advance about the organizations' intention to hold a mass prayer and demonstration at the site.
The police said in a statement on Sunday "At the end of the prayer service that took place on the Temple Mount, which covers an area of 140 dunams, marches began. The district command instructed the police to enter the area and disperse those who took part in the procession, with proper operational procedure and while avoiding violence."
The police prepared for the event ahead of time and even set up several checkpoints on the access roads to the compound, but were unable to prevent the thousands from reaching the holy site.
The police had previously said on Friday that "at the end of the mass prayer, several hundred worshipers who were in the area began to march while chanting nationalist slogans and disturbing the public order at the site." The police added that "as a result, forces took action to disperse the rioters and arrested three suspects for disturbing the public order."
On Thursday hundreds of Palestinians protested against Macron outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque chanting, “With our souls and with our blood we sacrifice for our prophet, Muhammad.” Some youths scuffled with Israeli police as they exited the esplanade into the Old City. Israeli police said they dispersed the gathering and detained three people.
Israel's coronavirus lockdown measures allow protests but limit prayers to 10 people indoors and 20 outdoors. Worship at a house of prayer with more than the maximum number of people constitutes a criminal offense, with each person present subject to a fine of 500 shekels.