Al-Aqsa Mosque: Israeli forces on high alert as thousands attend Friday prayer

Muslim women pray during the first Friday prayer of Ramadan in Al-Aqsa Mosque (Reuters)

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  April 8, 2022

Israel deploys hundreds of security forces in the Old City a day after shooting in Tel Aviv killed two Israelis.

Thousands of Palestinian worshippers attended the first Friday prayer of Ramadan in Al-Aqsa Mosque as Israeli forces were put on high alert in Jerusalem. 

The Islamic trust, or Waqf, which administers the affairs of the mosque, said 80,000 people attended the prayer service, with visitors coming from the occupied West Bank and the Palestinian community within Israel. 

Hundreds of thousands of worshippers often attend Friday prayers in Al-Aqsa during Ramadan. The low turnout this week comes after restrictions placed by Israeli authorities on worshippers travelling to Jerusalem, amid security concerns. 

Earlier this week, the Israeli army said only men over the age of 50 and women of all ages can visit Jerusalem from the West Bank. Additionally, troops have blocked off informal entry points across the fences separating the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Ahead of the Friday prayer, hundreds of Israeli security forces were deployed in the Old City, erecting roadblocks and checking residents’ IDs. 

The increased presence of officers in the city comes a day after a Palestinian killed two Israelis in a shooting in Tel Aviv. The latest attack brought the Israeli death toll from recent violence to 13 people, who have been killed in four separate incidents since 22 March. All five Palestinian assailants were subsequently killed. 

In the same period, Israeli fire killed six Palestinians in the West Bank, including one who was shot by a Jewish settler. 

The spike in violence coincides with warnings that tensions may escalate next week as Jewish settlers and far-right activists announced plans to storm al-Aqsa Mosque during the Jewish Passover holidays, to perform religious rituals inside the site.

In Damascus Gate, a popular spot for Jerusalem residents to socialize during Ramadan, Israeli forces have assaulted Palestinians on a nightly basis since the start of the Muslim holy month last week. More than 30 people have been arrested in the crackdown, including minors. 

Last Ramadan, Israel temporarily erected barricades in Damascus Gate that restricted Palestinians from gathering in the area, which sparked widespread protests and subsequent Israeli crackdowns. Violence spiked later in the month when Israel tried to expel Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and attacked worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque. This prompted widespread demonstrations across the occupied West Bank and the Palestinian community inside Israel, and led to an 11-day war between Israel and armed groups in Gaza.

Israel’s large-scale military operation on the besieged Strip killed 256 Palestinians, including 66 children, according to the UN. In Israel, 13 people were killed by rockets launched from Gaza.