Israel U-turn on Al-Aqsa Ramadan restrictions after Hamas, US warnings

Israel U-turn on Al-Aqsa Ramadan restrictions after Hamas, US warnings
Israel eases Al-Aqsa restrictions for Ramadan, sidelines far-right minister in an effort to reduce tensions at the holy site.
3 min read
28 February, 2024
Israel appears to heed warning from US, Hamas over Ramadan restrictions against Muslim worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied Jerusalem [Getty]

Israel's security cabinet has reportedly decided against imposing broad restrictions on Arab Israelis (Palestinians of 1948) accessing Al-Aqsa Mosque compound during the upcoming holy Muslim month of Ramadan. This decision comes in an apparent move to curb tensions at the religiously sensitive site.

This comes after a warning from Hamas and the United States on Wednesday.

A report by Israel's Channel 12 on Wednesday said the security cabinet will be the primary decision-maker regarding Al-Aqsa Mosque policy during Ramadan.

This move potentially sidelines far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who has advocated for tighter controls, but no official comment has been issued at the time of publication.

Instead, Israeli police would reportedly have the responsibility to determine the number of Muslim worshipers permitted at the site. Their decisions will be based on 'safety' assessments. Individual restrictions against specific worshipers will continue to rely on intelligence provided by the Shin Bet security service.

Channel 12 said Israel could allow 50,000 to 60,000 worshipers at the mosque  initially. This number could increase if no significant security incidents occur.

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US, Hamas Aqsa warnings

Earlier, the United States on Wednesday urged Israel to allow Muslims to worship at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem during Ramadan, after far-right minister Ben Gvir proposed barring Palestinians from the occupied West Bank from praying there.

"As it pertains to Al-Aqsa, we continue to urge Israel to facilitate access to Temple Mount for peaceful worshippers during Ramadan consistent with past practice," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters, using the Jewish term for the site, the holiest in Judaism.

"That's not just the right thing to do, it's not just a matter of granting people religious freedom that they deserve and to which they have a right, but it's also a matter that directly is important to Israel's security," he said.

"It is not in Israel's security interest to inflame tensions in the West Bank or in the broader region."

Israel has been assessing how to address worship in Jerusalem during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month that will start on March 10 or 11, depending on the lunar calendar.

The month of fasting comes as Israel wages a relentless military campaign in the Gaza Strip in response to a major attack by Hamas inside Israel on October 7.

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Hamas has called for a mass movement on Al-Aqsa for the start of Ramadan.

"We call on our people in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the occupied interior (Israel) to travel to Al-Aqsa from the first day of the blessed month of Ramadan, in groups or alone, to pray there to break the siege on it," Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said in a televised statement Wednesday.

Last week, Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said that Palestinian residents of the West Bank "should not be allowed" entry to Jerusalem to pray during Ramadan.

"We cannot take risks," he said, adding: "We cannot have women and children hostage in Gaza and allow celebrations for Hamas on the Temple Mount."

Ben Gvir leads a hard-right party advocating Jewish control of the compound.

The United States has been pressing for a deal before Ramadan begins in which Israel would halt strikes in the Gaza Strip and hostages snatched on October 7 would be freed.

The Israeli military campaign in Gaza has killed at least 29,954 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest figures by the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.