RAMALLAH: A massive Israeli security presence lined the streets of Jerusalem as up to 250,000 Palestinian Muslims performed the fourth and probably final Friday prayer of Ramadan at Al-Aqsa Mosque.
More than 3,200 police, border police and Shin Bet security agents were deployed on roads leading to the mosque.
Authorities allowed women of all ages, men over the age of 55 and children under 12 to enter Jerusalem from the West Bank without permits to perform Friday prayers.
Ramadan is a rare chance for many Palestinians to visit Jerusalem and pray at Al-Aqsa. For many, this was their first time in the city.
Ahmed Khassib, 51, from Ramallah, told Arab News: “I am delighted to be able to perform the fourth Friday prayer of Ramadan at Al-Aqsa Mosque.
“I cannot obtain a permit to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque except on Fridays during Ramadan, so I wait for this opportunity throughout the year.”
Praying at the mosque, Khasib said, “carries a message that Al-Aqsa is for Muslims.”
During his Friday sermon, Sheikh Ekrimeh Sabri, the imam of Al-Aqsa Mosque, told worshippers: “You who came to the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque from all parts of holy Palestine, you who have crossed the unjust military checkpoints, your march to the blessed Aqsa for the evening prayer and Taraweeh prayers is to remind the 2 billion Muslims of the world of the captive Al-Aqsa.”
Abd Al-Salam Abu Askar, a Palestinian from the Gaza Strip who lives in Ramallah, told Arab News that inflammatory comments about Al-Aqsa by far-right Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir had made Palestinians more determined to challenge Israeli restrictions on worshipping there.
When they felt the mosque was in danger, he said, they flocked to it during Ramadan, especially on Fridays.
“If the military checkpoints surrounding the city of Jerusalem allowed all citizens of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to visit Al-Aqsa, the number of worshippers would exceed half a million today,” Abu Askar said.