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Israeli police deploy in force for first Ramadan Friday

Aug. 5, 2011 10:34 A.M. (Updated: Aug. 6, 2011 6:57 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israeli police deployed in force in Jerusalem's Old City after limiting access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound ahead of the first Friday prayers during Ramadan.

"More than 2,000 police and border guards were deployed in Jerusalem," said a police spokesman, adding access was blocked to the esplanade for Muslim men under the age of 45.

"Among those aged 45 to 50 years, only the fathers of families with a permanent entry permit for Israel will be allowed to go on the esplanade," he said.

Access to the complex was also denied for West Bank Palestinians under the age of 35, the spokesman said, adding the measures were imposed as a precaution due to the risk of violence.

"More than 95,000 faithful Muslims came to pray today, the first Friday of Ramadan, at the mosque compound," Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP after the prayers finished.

"There were no incidents. Thousands of police were deployed in the Old City to deal with any eventuality," he added.

The Al-Aqsa compound, containing the mosque and the Dome of the Rock, is the third holiest site in Islam after Saudi Arabia's Mecca and Medina, and abuts the site where Jews believe the ancient Second Temple stood.

Israel also closed Qalandiya checkpoint near Ramallah, which provides access to Jerusalem for the northern West Bank, from Thursday evening at 9.00 p.m. until Friday evening at 7.00 p.m.

Israeli police said in a statement that only pedestrians will be allowed to cross the checkpoint, and recommended the entry of Israeli ID holders to Jerusalem through Hizmah and Zayem crossings, which are barred to West Bank Palestinians, Israel Radio reported.

During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk and emphasize charitable giving. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza strive to access Jerusalem to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque during the holy month.

Israel generally prohibits Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip access to East Jerusalem, annexed after its conquest in 1967, as well as Israeli territory as a result of the closure in effect since early 2000.

Ma'an staff writers contributed to this report
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