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300 Gazans pray at Al-Aqsa amid continued restrictions on Palestinians entering Jerusalem

June 24, 2016 10:51 A.M. (Updated: June 26, 2016 8:00 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Hundreds of Palestinians from the besieged Gaza Strip traveled to occupied East Jerusalem on Friday to attend prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Palestinian officials told Ma’an.

The 300 worshipers, all above the age of 50, headed to Al-Aqsa via the Erez crossing to attend prayers for the third Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, according to Palestinian liaison officials.

Thousands of Israeli police officers and border guards were reportedly deployed throughout the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City and surrounding neighborhoods.

Visitations by elderly Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to Al-Aqsa were implemented as part of a ceasefire agreement that ended Israel’s 2014 offensive on the besieged enclave. However, due to Israeli security concerns and Jewish holidays, visitations have been frequently interrupted since their introduction.

Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib, director of the Islamic Endowment (Waqf) in Jerusalem said a total of some 250,000 worshipers prayed at Al-Aqsa for the third Friday of the holy month of Ramadan, and that the prayers went calmly with no issues.

Meanwhile, Palestinian men under the age of 45 from the occupied West Bank were barred from entering Jerusalem for Friday prayers. Palestinian children under 12 and women of all ages were permitted to enter the Al-Aqsa compound.

More than 96,000 Palestinians from the West Bank traveled to East Jerusalem for prayers on Friday, according to a statement released by the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).

Israeli forces were deployed throughout East Jerusalem and erected checkpoints in the Old City, closing roads in Palestinian communities.

Following an attack in Tel Aviv earlier in the month, Israeli authorities froze the permits of 83,000 Palestinians to enter Israel, while banning visitations of elderly Gazans to the Al-Aqsa Mosque for a week after canceling all coordination with the besieged Gaza Strip during the month of Ramadan.

A COGAT spokesperson confirmed to Ma’an that the tens of thousands of permits allowing Palestinians to pass into Israel were still frozen as of Friday and Palestinians were only being permitted to enter Jerusalem for prayers if they fit the age criteria set by Israeli authorities. 

In addition to the security measures imposed upon Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, approximately 60 Palestinian residents of occupied East Jerusalem -- including a senior Fatah official -- have been placed on Israel's "blacklist," barring them from visiting Al-Aqsa, due to alleged "incitement" and stoking tensions on the compound.

For many Palestinians in Jerusalem and across the occupied Palestinian territory, Ramadan is directly connected to the Al-Aqsa Mosque. 

Jerusalemite Palestinian Marwan Hashlamoun, 60, and his wife Dalal, 47, have both been banned from Al-Aqsa. He told Ma'an: “I live only a few meters away from Al-Aqsa Mosque and I can’t access it. These measures hurt Jerusalemites immensely. [Praying in Al-Aqsa] is the only outlet for the people of Jerusalem whose houses are very small and have no yards.” 

By depriving him of the right to pray in Al-Aqsa mosque, “the (Israeli) occupation has deliberately cut a main artery in my life,” he said.

The Waqf 
condemned Israeli authorities last week for the latest “provocations and harassment” taking place in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound amid the holy month of Ramadan.

They slammed Israel for their policy that “seeks to deprive the Waqf of their natural and historic right to run Al-Aqsa Mosque, and deprive Muslim worshipers their opportunity to pray in it.”

The statement criticized the fact that Palestinians are being banned from the holy site during Ramadan, “at a time when Muslims look forward to dedicating their time to fasting, worshiping, and other spiritual activities in Al-Aqsa Mosque -- one of the most sacred sites in Islam.”
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