Tens of Thousands Flock to Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa for Ramadan Prayer as Police Bolsters Forces

Following Thursday evening's terror attack in Tel Aviv, some 50,000 worshipers arrived at the Al-Aqsa Mosque

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Palestinians make their way through an Israeli checkpoint to attend the first Friday prayers of Ramadan in Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque, in Bethlehem the West Bank, on Friday.
Palestinians make their way through an Israeli checkpoint to attend the first Friday prayers of Ramadan in Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque, in Bethlehem the West Bank, on Friday.Credit: MUSSA ISSA QAWASMA/ REUTERS
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

The police bolstered their forces in Jerusalem in preparation for the first Friday prayers of the month of Ramadan, which drew some 50,000 worshipers – about half of them from the West Bank – to the Temple Mount.

Thousands of officers guarded the prayer services, which ended on Friday afternoon.

The number of worshipers was relatively low compared to previous years, in which about 200,000 worshipers participated in prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Before the terrorist attack on Thursday night in Tel Aviv, the police estimated that tens of thousands of worshipers from the West Bank would cross into Israel to pray at the Temple Mount, in addition to the tens of thousands of worshipers from Jerusalem.

As of Friday morning, Defense Minister Benny Gantz had made no changes to this decision to allow worshipers from the West Bank to travel into Jerusalem. Men over the age of 50 and women of all ages can enter Israel for prayers.

Worshipers at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem last Friday ahead of the start of Ramadan.Credit: HAZEM BADER - AFP

It was also agreed that over Ramadan Israel would allow West Bank Palestinians to visit first-degree relatives in Israel, Sunday through Thursday.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett requested, however, that a crossing near Jenin – the hometown of the terrorist who carried out the attack on Thursday night in Tel Aviv – be closed until further notice as security forces investigate the possible involvement of those in the area. Otherwise, men over the age of 50 and women of all ages are allowed to enter Israel from the West Bank for prayers.

While the last two evenings have been relatively quiet, almost every evening over the last week – which marked the first week of Ramadan – Palestinians confronted police at Damascus Gate, and a number of young Palestinian men were arrested each time.

Nevertheless, clashes were rather limited in scope, no one was injured, and there was little interference with the tens of thousands of Jerusalem Muslims celebrating Ramadan at the Damascus Gate Plaza. Unlike last year, the police have thus far avoided using force as a dispersal method, nor have they used riot control equipment such as water cannons or stun grenades.

Police said on Friday that they would act to allow all worshipers of all religions to fulfil their right to freedom of religion and worship throughout the Old City and its holy sites.

"We will not allow violence and rioting in any form and will act against criminals, whoever they are."

At least two civilians were killed and another ten wounded in a terror attack on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv on Thursday evening. Police conducted an exhaustive hunt for the suspect, a Palestinian resident of the northern West Bank town of Jenin, throughout the night.

In the early hours of Friday, he was located hiding by a mosque in Jaffa and was shot and killed by Israeli security forces.

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