Israel Lets Palestinian Men 50 and Up, Women on Al-Aqsa for Ramadan Friday Prayers

Gantz tells Palestinian President Abbas other restrictions may be lifted if calm persists after a wave of deadly attacks. Over the past two years, Palestinians' entry to the holy Jerusalem site has been restricted over COVID-related measures

הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf
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Worshipers gather for Friday prayers, next to the Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's old city, on Friday.
Worshipers gather for Friday prayers, next to the Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's old city, on Friday.Credit: Mahmoud Illean/AP
הגר שיזף
Hagar Shezaf

Israel announced on Tuesday it will let Palestinian women, men 50 and up and children enter Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque for Friday prayers during the Muslim month of Ramadan, which began this week.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz also told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a Tuesday phone call that Israel was willing to expand measures for civilians during and after Ramadan if calm persists, according to his office.

Gantz also sent holiday greetings to Abbas and to Palestinian Muslims for Ramadan, and expressed his appreciation for Abbas' condemnation of last week's deadly attack in Bnei Brak.

According to a statement by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, women, children 12 and younger and men 50 and older will be free to enter the holy site. 40-49-year-old men are required to obtain permits.

On Saturday, the first night of Ramadan, police arrested four Palestinians after they allegedly threw stones and other objects at the officers during clashes in Jerusalem's Old City.

However, unlike last year, the police did not place barriers around the plaza's stairs, and most of the police force remained relatively distant from the gate in an attempt to avoid an escalation.

The police also showed restraint compared to last year by avoiding dispersing people from the gate.

In a series of measures for this year's Ramadan, Israel will also let Palestinians from the West Bank visit first-degree relatives in Israel, every week from Sunday through Thursday. This may be expanded "according to the security situation" after a meeting by top defense officials next week, the statement said.

Crossings between the West Bank and Israel will also operate longer hours during the holiday.

The decisions were made in a meeting by Defense Minister Gantz, military chief Aviv Kochavi and other top military and intelligence officials. The police, according to the statement, wasn't represented at the meeting.

Police, as well as the Shin Bet security service, favored stricter entry rules, while the military along with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett preferred a more lenient approach, which would let men 45 and older enter freely. The compromise reached between the bodies allows access for much of the population.

With converging Jewish and Muslim holidays and the recent wave of fatal terror attacks in Israel, as well as the fire exchanges in the West Bank, security forces declared a state of high alert this week.

In the phone call with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday, Jordan's King Abdullah urged Israel to do its utmost to maintain calm during Ramadan, and specifically asked Bennett to "avoid taking steps that could lead to violence," according to a statement from the king's office.

The king also asked Bennett to allow worshipers to arrive freely to Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Over the past two years, Palestinians' entry to Al-Aqsa was restricted due to measures related to the coronavirus pandemic. Only ten thousand vaccinated worshipers were allowed to enter the mosque complex last year, while in 2020 worshipers were almost completely banned.

In 2019, Palestinian women of all ages and Palestinian men between the ages of 16 and 40 were allowed to enter without a permit.

Nir Hasson, Jonathan Lis and Jack Khoury contributed to this report.

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