Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque will reopen to Muslim worshippers after the Eid holiday, a statement from its governing body said, two months after it was closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The council decided to lift the suspension on worshippers entering the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque after the Eid al-Fitr holiday,” said the statement released on Tuesday by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf.
The Jordan-appointed council that oversees Islamic sites on the sacred compound was referring to the three-day Eid holiday, expected to begin this weekend to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site, was closed in March for the first time in more than 50 years as part of measures across the globe to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.
On March 15, religious officials closed the Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, and a week later also banned worshippers from gathering in open areas of the holy hilltop compound, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as Temple Mount.
It was not immediately clear whether worshippers would also be allowed back into Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock next week.
The mosque’s director, Omar al-Kiswani, told the AFP news agency that he hoped for no restrictions on the number of worshippers, adding that governing body would announce the exact “mechanisms and measures later”.
He said the details would be worked out to “ensure we are not subjected to criticism on the pretext we have broken health rules”.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which lies in Jerusalem’s Old City, has long been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The mosque compound is under the custodianship of neighbouring Jordan which controlled the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, until its occupation by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967.
Muslims believe the site to be where Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
The place is also holy to Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount and believe it to be the location of the two Biblical temples – the second of which was destroyed in 70 CE.
With the number of COVID-19 cases declining, both Israel and the Palestinian territories have eased restrictions in the recent days.
The Western Wall, the holiest site at which Jews are permitted to pray, is one of the outer walls of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. It was closed by Israeli authorities but reopened earlier this month, though with only 300 people allowed at a time.
In total, Israel has recorded 16,650 coronavirus infections in its population of nine million, with 277 deaths.
On the Palestinian side, fewer than 400 cases have been confirmed in the West Bank and Gaza, which have a combined population of more than 4.5 million.
Beaches in Israel are due to reopen from Wednesday, with restaurants and bars to follow from May 27. Flights are also due to resume from various locations in the coming weeks.