Al-Aqsa compound 'calm' for Friday prayers amid tensions

More than 40,000 Palestinians performed Friday prayers inside Al-Aqsa compound amid Israeli-issued bans on 140 others.

    Palestinian pray inside the Golden Gate near Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem's Old City [Ammar Awad/Reuters]
    Palestinian pray inside the Golden Gate near Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem's Old City [Ammar Awad/Reuters]

    Israeli forces have beefed up security in and around the Old City of Jerusalem, following recent tensions surrounding the Bab al-Rahma prayer hall in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

    Palestinian sources said that more than 40,000 worshipers performed Friday prayers inside the compound on Friday, but 140 others have been banned by Israeli forces from accessing the site.

    Speaking from occupied East Jerusalem, Al Jazeera's Harry Fawcett said so far there has been a "relatively calm atmosphere".

    "There are expressions of solidarity for the 140 people who have been barred access to the compound, among them senior scholars of the Waqf - the Islamic trust that runs the compound in cooperation with the Jordanian government," he said.

    Gate of Mercy

    Israeli authorities closed the prayer hall, also known as "the Gate of Mercy" or "Golden Gate", in 2003 claiming it was being used to organise activities that they said were "linked to Hamas," which Israel classifies as a "terrorist" group.

    At the end of last February, Israeli police closed the metal gate leading to Bab al-Rahma with chains and locks, which Palestinians saw as an indication of the Israeli's intent to divide the mosque compound between Palestinians and Jewish settlers.

    Palestinian protesters managed to reopen the site for the first time in 16 years and hundreds have been praying at the site, their biggest achievement since forcing Israel to remove the unilaterally installed metal detectors from the compound in July 2017.

    Israel has issued a court order that the site will be reclosed on Monday, but the Waqf council has rejected the ultimatum.

    "We will not respond to courts of the occupation regarding the issue of Bab al-Rahma and Al-Aqsa Mosque and it [does not have authority over the matter]," the council said in a statement last Tuesday.

    A senior Jordanian official confirmed that his country is still engaged in intensive talks with Israel and the international community in order to "defend the Bab al-Rahma chapel" in Al-Aqsa mosque.

    "Jordan is trying to preserve the legal and historical status quo in the chapel of Bab al-Rahma," the official told local Jordanian news agency al-Ghad, stressing that Amman "opposes Israeli requests to close it."

    Israel occupied East Jerusalem, where Al-Aqsa is located, during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. It annexed the entire city in 1980 in a move never recognised by the international community.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News