Jerusalem – Tens of thousands of worshippers have descended on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound for the first Friday prayers after US President Donald Trump announced his Middle East plan to resolve the decades-old Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Despite the cold weather made worse by rain and strong winds, men, women and children responded to the call for prayer from the 14-hectare (35-acre) compound in Jerusalem, where the Dome of the Rock and the adjacent silver-domed Al-Aqsa Mosque are located.
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People promised to show a strong presence at the holy site following Trump’s announcement on Tuesday that the city, where the al-Haram al-Sharif or the Noble Sanctuary is located, would remain the “undivided capital” of Israel.
“The deal is humiliating and unacceptable. Trump wants to deny us access to our Al-Aqsa. This holy site is ours. We will never give it up,” said Um Khaled al-Jawabri, who lives in a refugee camp in the occupied West Bank.
“Even if it requires sacrificing all our blood, Palestine’s capital will always be Jerusalem,” he said.
Under Trump’s plan, the eighth-century site, regarded by Muslims as the third holiest site in Islam and important for all three Abrahamic faiths, would be under Israeli control.
In 1947, the United Nations drew up a plan to divide Palestine between Jews and Palestinians, leading to the creation of Israel. Since then, the Al-Aqsa compound has been under UN administration.
Palestinians decry the increasing Israeli encroachment over the site, which intensified after the 1967 war, which resulted in an Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, where the Old City and the Mosque are located.
Trump’s 181-page document says Jerusalem’s holy sites “should remain open and available for peaceful worshippers and tourists of all faiths”.
“People of every faith should be permitted to pray on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, in a manner that is fully respectful to their religion, taking into account the times of each religion’s prayers and holidays, as well as other religious factors,” it said.
‘Not an inch’
The document elicited strong reactions from Palestinian worshippers who said they were worried that if implemented, the deal would deny freedom of access to the compound and prayer rights.
For Ahmad Hamad, a 25-year-old resident of the Old City and volunteer paramedic at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Trump’s so-called Deal of the Century was an offensive plan to “take away Al-Aqsa from us [Palestinians]”.
“We reject this deal, especially since it impacts our right to Al-Aqsa,” said Hamad.
“As Palestinians, we will never give up a single inch of this land, or of our holy sites whether it’s the al-Haram al-Sharif or the Church of Holy Sepulchre,” he added.
Hamad said a large crowd that gathered for the morning prayers at the Mosque was hurried away by Israeli security forces.
“Ten worshippers were injured after Israeli forces used rubber bullets to disperse the crowd,” he said.
A statement by the Islamic Waqf organisation confirmed 11 people were wounded, without giving further details.
Videos from the holy site on Friday showed a heavy Israeli security presence at the compound, with forces motioning worshippers to leave after the prayers.
Hamad said the worshippers were not intimidated and said they would come for the Friday prayers in large numbers.
“We will keep coming in larger and stronger numbers,” he said. “If we are ever denied access to Al-Aqsa, there will be a war.”
Trump ‘can’t pronounce’
Noor Abdellatif, a 20-year-old student in Jerusalem, told Al Jazeera she was angered by the announcement of the deal, but could not take it seriously after Trump referred to the holy site as “Al-Aqua Mosque”.
“Trump doesn’t know what he is talking about. He doesn’t understand what Al-Aqsa means to us. He couldn’t even pronounce its name,” she laughed.
“He doesn’t realise we will all stand up for Al-Aqsa if he touches it,” she said, before picking up her bag and heading inside the Dome of the Rock, from where Prophet Muhammad is believed to have ascended to heaven.
Zeinat Abusbeih, who heads security at the Al-Aqsa compound, told Al Jazeera that restrictions on access of Palestinian worshippers, which are already in place would only increase under Trump’s plan.
“The deal wants to make our access to Al-Aqsa restricted the way it is at the Khalili Mosque in Hebron. We already face restrictions regarding access points and the age of worshippers allowed into the site at certain times,” said Abusbeih.
“This [deal] would only make things much worse. More gates might be closed and people denied entry at more regular hours.”
Palestinian analyst Rasim Uaydat told Al Jazeera that Trump’s deal would also challenge Jordan’s authority over the holy site.
“This deal aims to put Al-Aqsa and other holy sites under Israeli sovereignty,” said Ubaydat. “That means Jordanian authority over the holy site will be lifted.”
Since 1967, the Jordanian Islamic Waqf has been in charge of the holy site, while Israel oversees external security. Non-Muslims are only allowed to visit the compound during specified hours and are not allowed to pray there.
Zeinat Abusbeih summed up the mood at the holy site when she said Palestinians will stand strong against Trump’s deal.
“We will never allow them to take control of Al-Aqsa and dictate to us when and where we have access to it.”
Source: Al Jazeera