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Palestinians Hold Aqsa Prayers in Largest Ramadan Gathering Since COVID

Palestinians Hold Aqsa Prayers in Largest Ramadan Gathering Since COVID

Friday, 16 April, 2021 - 11:45

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


Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib, head of the Waqf Islamic affairs council, 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 Ramadan worshippers at Al-Aqsa since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic more than a year ago, he told AFP.


Last Ramadan, "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 the Koran holy book.


But despite the lifting of some coronavirus restrictions, the sprawling plaza of the compound was far from full.


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 buses loaded with of pilgrims drove in.


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


Israeli police spokesman Shimon Cohen said seven people were arrested overnight in Palestinian neighborhoods 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.


Video circulated online showed people kicking in the windows of a police vehicle in east Jerusalem, and officers firing stun grenades.


Earlier this week, Palestinians accused Israel of breaking into four mosque minarets and cutting wires to prevent the call for prayers from being broadcast on loudspeakers.


Mustafa Abu Sway of the Waqf council said the action came after Islamic officials refused to turn off loudspeakers Wednesday during a memorial for fallen Israelis at the adjacent Western Wall.


For its part, Jordan condemned what it called Israel's "blatant" violation of the status quo and accused it of provocation.


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