Palestinians pray in long-closed part of Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem

The area near Al-Rahma gate was closed by Israeli court order in 2003, Palestinians entered and prayed there on Friday.

Israeli police Palestineans Al Aqsa
Israeli police confronted Palestinians on Monday who had prayed in a section of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound that has been closed by an Israeli court order for 16 years [Mahmoud Illean/AP Photo]

For the first time in 16 years, Palestinians on Friday prayed at an area by the Al-Rahma gate, located inside occupied East Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque complex.

It is a passageway of gates and a stairway leading to a hall that had been closed by Israeli authorities for years and was reopened on Friday by Muslim religious officials. The hall is located a short distance from Al-Aqsa Mosque itself.

The Israeli authorities closed the area in 2003. In 2017, an Israeli court upheld the closure order.
But on Friday, the Religious Endowments Authority, a Jordan-run agency mandated with overseeing East Jerusalem’s Muslim and Christian holy sites, announced the reopening of the mosque after a 16-year hiatus.

Religious Endowments Authority Director Sheikh Abdul Azim Salhab opened the doors of the hall, and worshipers performed Friday prayers.

Week of tension

On Monday, the Israeli authorities closed the Al-Rahma gate, preventing hundreds of Palestinian worshippers from entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex, Islam’s third holiest site after Mecca and Medina. 

Earlier on Friday, Israeli police arrested 60 people before Friday prayers at the complex amid a week of tension over access to that corner of the mosque’s compound.

Israeli police Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP the crackdown followed “calls for public disturbances” at Muslim Friday prayers.

“As part of the police preparations based on intelligence, police arrested 60 suspects involved in incitement to violence,” he said. 

Israeli police increased their presence at the compound as thousands of Muslim worshippers gathered at the holy site, which is known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

Israeli police had beefed up security throughout Jerusalem’s walled old city to prevent any clashes from breaking out, the police spokesman said.

The old city was among areas Israel captured in a 1967 war with Jordan, which retains a stewardship role at the mosque.

Teenager killed

A Palestinian teenager was killed by Israeli gunfire at a protest along the Gaza-Israel border fence, Gaza officials said.

Fifteen-year-old Youssef al-Dayya died at a hospital in the Gaza Strip on Friday shortly after he was hit with a gunshot in the chest, the Gaza Health Ministry said.

The ministry added that 30 others were wounded by Israeli live fire during the weekly Gaza march which saw thousands of Palestinians protest along the Israeli borders.

Palestinians have for nearly a year gathered weekly near the Israeli fence for unarmed protests, as part of the Great March of Return rallies which began on March 30. Protesters are also demanding Israel to end its 12-year blockade of the coastal strip.

Israel says it is protecting its borders and accuses Hamas, which governs Gaza, of orchestrating the protests. Hamas, the protest’s organisers, and demonstrators themselves have denied this. 

At least 248 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since then, the majority shot during protests, though others have been hit by tank fire or air raids. More than 23,000 others have been wounded.

Two Israeli soldiers have been killed over the same period.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies