Islam’s Third Holiest Site To Be Closed Following Spike In COVID-19 Cases

Palestinians walk past the Dome of Rock at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, before the start of the dawn prayer (salat al-fajr) inside the compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, on May 31, 2020, after being closed for over two months because of the coronavirus pandemic. AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP

 

Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam’s third holiest site, will be closed from Friday following a spike in coronavirus cases, the authority that administers the city’s Muslim holy places announced.

With cases of the virus on the rise in Israel and the Palestinian territories, the Waqf authority held an emergency meeting with health officials.

Waqf members decided to “suspend the entry of worshippers starting from Friday afternoon (September 18) for a period of three weeks”.

“We hope that citizens will understand this procedure, in order to preserve their health and wellbeing,” Waqf member Hatem Abdel Qader told AFP.

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The closure coincides with a three-week lockdown to be imposed by Israel, which controls the entrances of the compound.

The call to prayer will continue to ring out across Jerusalem’s Old City, Qader said, while Waqf employees will be allowed to pray at the site.

Jordan is the custodian of the compound, known by Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, or Holy Sanctuary, and as the Temple Mount by Jews.

It is only the second time that the Waqf has decided to close the compound since Israel occupied east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967.

Israel has previously blocked access to the flashpoint site, which is a focus of Palestinian aspirations for statehood.

The Waqf shut the compound at the onset of the pandemic in March when sweeping closures upended religious life in a way not seen for centuries.

Israeli authorities have reported nearly 167,000 coronavirus cases, with 1,147 deaths.

In the occupied West Bank some 214 people have died from the virus and more than 30,200 cases have been registered by Palestinian authorities.

AFP

Al-Aqsa Mosque In Jerusalem Reopens After Two Months

Palestinians walk past the Dome of Rock at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, before the start of the dawn prayer (salat al-fajr) inside the compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, on May 31, 2020, after being closed for over two months because of the coronavirus pandemic. AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP

 

 

Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound — the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia — reopened on Sunday after being closed for more than two months because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Dozens of worshippers in protective masks were let into the compound before the first prayers of the day, held in a cool and windy night.

Chanting “God is greatest, we will protect Al-Aqsa with our soul and blood”, the group gathered in front of the large wooden doors were welcomed by mosque director Omar al-Kiswani, who thanked them for their patience.

It followed a fraught day in annexed East Jerusalem, where the compound is located.

Israeli police on Saturday shot dead a disabled Palestinian they mistakenly thought was armed, prompting furious condemnation from the Palestinians.

The religious site, which houses Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, had closed its doors in March as part of measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven there, and the site has often been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It is also the holiest site to Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount and believe it to be the location of two biblical temples — the second of which was destroyed in 70 AD.

On the first day of the Eid holiday, scuffles had broken out between Israeli police and Palestinians as worshippers tried to break through barriers to enter the compound.

Known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, the site is under the custodianship of neighbouring Jordan, which controlled the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, up until occupation by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967.

With the number of COVID-19 cases declining, in recent days both Israel and the Palestinian territories have eased restrictions.

Israel has reported more than 17,000 cases, including 284 deaths.

Fewer than 500 infections and just three deaths have been confirmed in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, which have a combined population of around five million.

Following the deadly shooting on Saturday, the Palestinian leadership demanded that whoever killed the man be brought before the International Criminal Court.

The incident happened in the alleys of the walled Old City near Lions’ Gate, an access point mainly used by Palestinians.

There have been fears that Israeli plans to take advantage of a controversial green light from US President Donald Trump to annex swathes of the West Bank could stoke further violence.

Clashes Break Out At Al-Aqsa Mosque

Al-aqsa mosqueClashes have broken out at the Al-aqsa mosque complex in East Jerusalem after Israeli police entered the compound.

Reports said dozens of police broke into the site and Palestinians threw stones and fireworks at them.

Al-aqsa is one of Islam’s holiest sites and is in the temple mount Haram Al-sharif site also revered by Jews.

The holy compound is a source of religious and political tension between Israel and the Palestinians, and a frequent flash-point for violence.

Tensions have been running high since Israel Defence Minister, Moshe Yaalon, last week, banned two Muslim groups which confronted Jewish visitors to the compound.

The disturbances came hours before the start of the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah, which began at sunset on Sunday and continues until Tuesday evening.

Israel seized East Jerusalem, where Al-Aqsa is located, in the Six Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move which wasn’t  recognised by the international community.