Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque shut as precaution against coronavirus

Holy mosque and Dome of the Rock have closed, but Muslim prayer will still be held outdoors in the Al-Aqsa compound.

    'All prayers will be held in the open areas of the Aqsa Mosque,' Al-Aqsa Mosque director Omar Kiswani said [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu]
    'All prayers will be held in the open areas of the Aqsa Mosque,' Al-Aqsa Mosque director Omar Kiswani said [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu]

    The Islamic authority that oversees Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem has announced that the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock will close their doors to worshippers as a precaution against the new coronavirus, adding that outdoor prayers will still be allowed at the complex that houses Islam's third holiest site.

    "The Islamic Waqf department decided to shut down the enclosed prayer places inside the blessed Aqsa mosque until further notice as a protective measure to prevent the spread of coronavirus. All prayers will be held in the open areas of the Aqsa Mosque," the director of Al-Aqsa mosque, Omar Kiswani, told Reuters news agency on Sunday.

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    On Saturday, the Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs ordered mosques and churches to be closed in all the governorates in the occupied Palestinian territories until further notice as part of efforts to curb the coronavirus, the official Palestinian Wafa news agency reported.

    Mosques across the occupied West Bank called through loudspeakers for Muslims to perform the regular daily prayers at home rather than at mosques, aiming to restrict gatherings of people, according to Wafa.

    Palestinian Authority spokesman Ibrahim Melhem said three more cases of the coronavirus were confirmed in the occupied West Bank on Saturday, raising the total number of infections to 38.

    Palestinian officials confirmed the first cases in Bethlehem on March 5, subsequently declaring a state of emergency and shutting down Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, while the Israeli army sealed off the city.

    Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh announced a 30-day lockdown in a special broadcast, saying the measures were essential to contain the disease.

    Public parks, tourist sites, schools and educational facilities have closed and all major gatherings including sporting events and conferences have been cancelled.

    Meanwhile, Israel's Health Ministry announced on Sunday that 200 Israelis have so far tested positive for the coronavirus.

    The health ministry announced that as of Sunday all educational institutions, shopping centres, restaurants and places of public gathering are closed while gatherings of more than 10 people have also been banned.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies