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Hundreds refused entry to Jerusalem for Friday prayers

Sept. 26, 2008 9:53 A.M. (Updated: Sept. 26, 2008 9:53 A.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an - The restrictions imposed on Palestinians wishing to pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem on Friday were the strictest yet on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan.

Last Friday over 200,000 Muslims journeyed to the mosque for the Friday noon prayer, and numbers are expected to be higher on this last Friday. For those coming from the West Bank, however, restrictions will prevent all but men over 55 and women over 45 from entering Jerusalem.

On previous Fridays the Israeli army allowed Palestinian men between 45 and 55 with permits to visit Jerusalem through West Bank checkpoints, along with women between 30 and 45.

Thousands of Palestinian crowded at the Qalandiya and Bethlehem (Gilo) checkpoints early Friday in an attempt to cross and pray at the mosque, but hundreds were turned home.

The last Friday of Ramadan is traditionally the most important, as it comes before the Eid Al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan celebration. In Jerusalem at the close of the month of fasting, many religious festivals are held; markets are crowded with shoppers buying foods and gifts for family members, and members of the Muslim community coming together in recognition of a successful month of fasting and reflection.

While restrictions are tight for West Bank Palestinians wishing to worship at the holy Al-Aqsa mosque, residents of the Gaza Strip are entirely prohibited from Jerusalem. This year marks the tenth in a row that Gazans have been unable to pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

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