No Gazans have been allowed to reach the al-Aqsa mosque for "security reasons", the Israeli authorities said.

 

As many as a hundred thousand Palestinian Muslims converged on Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque on Friday for the traditional Juma'a (Friday) congregational prayers.

 

Many of the worshippers came by buses and cars from the sizeable Islamic community in Israel's proper and East Jerusalem. Muslims make up around one-fifth of Israel's estimated 7-million population. 
 

However, for thousands of West Bank Palestinians, the Israeli decision means al-Aqsa will remain off limits to them. 

 

Third holiest site

 

Al-Aqsa mosque, which Jews refer to as the Temple Mount, is considered the third holiest Islamic place, directly after the Sacred mosque in Makka and the Prophet's mosque in Madina.

 

"There is no such thing as true religious freedom in Israel. We are after all under Israel's military occupation. Occupation and freedom are incompatible"

College student Haitham Yusuf

According to tradition, the reward for a single prayer at al-Aqsa is multiplied 500 times.

  

"I came from Nablus to pray at the Haram-al-Sharif of Jerusalem, but the Israeli police wouldn't allow me to pass," said Haitham Yusuf, a college student living in a small village outside Nablus.

 

"It is unfair. In this age of religious freedom and tolerance, Muslims are denied access to their religious sites. Just imagine how the reactions of Jews would be if Jews were to be denied access to their places of worship in New York or London or Rome.

 

"There is no such thing as true religious freedom in Israel. We are after all under Israel's military occupation. Occupation and freedom are incompatible," he said.

 

Security considerations

 

An Israeli police spokesman told Aljazeera.net: "If things go well, we might allow younger Palestinians to pray at the mosques next Friday."

 

He said the restrictions were solely motivated by "security considerations".

 

Al-Aqsa mosque is the third
holiest site in Islam

Nevertheless, Palestinian officials pledged to do their utmost to ensure the comfort and safety of the worshippers.

  

"People come to this place to pray to Almighty God and ask for His mercy and forgiveness in this holy month of fasting," Shaikh Muhammad Hussein, a high-ranking Supreme Muslim Council official, told Aljazeera.net.

 

He said Waqf (Muslim endowment) authorities have intensified security precautions to forestall any possible attacks on worshipers by Jewish extremists.

 

"We are responsible for what goes on inside the confines of the Haram-al-Sharif," he said.

 

Hussein said he expected the number of worshipers to rise significantly in the last 10 days of Ramadan, especially the last Friday of the holy month.