260,000 Palestinians converge at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque to perform Ramadan’s last Friday prayers

COMPILED FROM WIRE SERVICES
ISTANBUL
Published 31.05.2019 16:54
Palestinian men pray in front of the Dome of the Rock located on the opposite site of Al-Aqsa Mosque in the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan, May 31, 2019. (AA Photo)
Palestinian men pray in front of the Dome of the Rock located on the opposite site of Al-Aqsa Mosque in the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan, May 31, 2019. (AA Photo)

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Muslims converged on Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque to mark the fourth and last Friday of the Ramadan fasting month, which is marked as the Quds Day in various countries.

Men over 40, children under 12, and women of all ages were allowed by the Israeli authorities to enter occupied East Jerusalem without permits.

"An estimated 260,000 Palestinian worshipers showed up to pray at Al-Aqsa for the last Friday of Ramadan," Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib, director-general of Jerusalem's Waqf (religious endowments) Agency, told Anadolu Agency (AA).

According to al-Khatib, worshipers are still arriving at the iconic site to mark Laylat al-Qadr, which commemorates the first revelation of the Holy Quran to Prophet Muhammad.

Inside the mostly uncovered mosque compound, water was sprayed on worshippers to keep them cool in the baking Jerusalem sun, with temperatures approaching 40 degrees.

Israeli police, meanwhile, stepped up security at the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex, deploying hundreds of troops in and around Jerusalem's Old City.

Israel has illegally occupied East Jerusalem, in which the Al-Aqsa is located, since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. In a move never recognized by the international community, Israel annexed the entire city in 1980, claiming it as the self-proclaimed Jewish state's "eternal and undivided" capital. In December 2017, US President Donald Trump broke with decades of bipartisan policy to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital in a move that prompted the Palestinians to cut all contacts with his administration.

For Muslims, Al-Aqsa represents the world's third holiest site after Mecca and Medina. Jews, for their part, refer to the area as the "Temple Mount", claiming it was the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times.

International law continues to view both the West Bank and East Jerusalem as "occupied territory."

The last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan is also commemorated as the Quds Day, which was launched by Iran's revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and are held by pro-Iranian groups across the region. On Sunday, Israel marks its own "Jerusalem Day," when it celebrates capturing the Old City in the 1967 Mideast war.

The prayers came only hours after a Palestinian teenager was shot dead by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank as he sought to sneak into Jerusalem, reportedly to pray at Al-Aqsa.

In a separate incident, another Palestinian teenager stabbed two Israelis inside the Old City before being shot dead by Israeli security. The Old City has been the scene of numerous stabbings of Israelis by Palestinian assailants in recent years, though relative calm has existed for several months.

After the latest attack, gates to the Old City were briefly sealed before being reopened as thousands thronged towards the mosque. Despite a heavy police presence, there were no reports of further incidents.

Elsewhere, Israeli forces shot and injured four Palestinians who were taking part in an anti-settlement demonstration in the occupied West Bank, according to a Palestinian official.

Protest organizer Murad Shtewi told AA that Israeli troops had used rubber bullets to disperse the weekly demonstration, leaving at least four Palestinians injured.

Israeli forces, Shtewi added, had also assaulted journalists covering the rally and raided the nearby Palestinian town of Kafr Qaddum.

Every Friday, Palestinians across the occupied West Bank stage demonstrations to protest Israel's decades-long policy of building Jewish-only settlements on confiscated Palestinian land.

According to estimates, 640,000 Jewish settlers currently live on 196 settlements (built with the Israeli government's approval) and more than 200 settler "outposts" (built without its approval) throughout the West Bank.

International law regards the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as "occupied territory" and considers all Jewish settlement-building activity there to be illegal.

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