4 million people prayed at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan
Jerusalem, Apr 21 (EFE).- Some 4 million Muslims prayed at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque during the month of Ramadan, which ended Friday.
Muslims in Israel and the Palestinian territories were preparing on Friday to celebrate the feast of Eid al-Fitr, a three-day feast which brings the holy month of fasting and reflection to a close.
Around 120,000 worshippers returned on Friday to the Esplanade of the Mosques – Islam’s third holiest site and a perennial focus of tension with Israel – for the Eid al-Fitr prayers in a more festive atmosphere than in previous weeks, which have been some of the most violent in the region in years.
The Waqf, the Jordanian-backed Islamic trust that administers the Esplanade of the Mosques, reported Friday that some four million Muslim worshippers – mostly Palestinians but also others from abroad – had come to pray at the site since Ramadan began on 22 March.
Israeli police reported that Friday morning prayers were mostly peaceful, although “a handful of troublemakers tried to disturb other worshippers, to desecrate a holy site and incite terrorism”, in a message accompanied by a video showing several masked youths trying to hang up flags of the Islamist Hamas movement.
Ramadan, always tense in Jerusalem, ended without any serious incidents, but the second week of the holy month saw major clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police, who stormed the Al Aqsa mosque to remove hundreds of Palestinians who had barricaded themselves with explosives, fireworks and stones, according to police accounts.
The officers beat them, as seen in viral videos that shocked the Muslim world, leaving 30 people injured and 350 detained, prompting a swift response from Palestinian militias who fired rockets from Gaza.
Two days later, pro-Palestinian militias from Lebanon and Syria joined the offensive, raising tensions in the Middle East to a fever pitch, although the escalation was quickly defused after Israel responded with targeted bombing raids.
To defuse the tensions, Israel banned Jews from visiting the compound in the last 10 days of Ramadan, after they had been allowed during the turbulent second week, which coincided with Passover, a major Jewish holiday.
For Jews, the Esplanade is the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, because it is believed to be where the Second Temple was erected.
According to their religious rules, only certain rabbis are allowed to pray there, so Jews pray from the nearby Wailing Wall, although in recent years several rabbis have changed their stance and encouraged their worshippers to pray inside the compound, causing tensions with Palestinians.
To mark Eid al-Fitr, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas commuted several prisoner sentences, while Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a video in which he wished a happy holiday “to our brothers and sisters, the Muslim citizens of Israel and Muslims around the world”.
The Esplanade of the Mosques is located inside the Old City of Jerusalem, in the eastern half of the city that was to be the capital of a future Palestinian state, but was occupied by Israel in 1967 and annexed in 1980. EFE