Muslims perform first Friday prayers at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque as Ramadan begins

Muslims perform first Friday prayers at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque as Ramadan begins
Palestinians Muslims gathered in their thousands to perform the first Friday prayers of the holy month of Ramadan at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, in what was described as 'in peaceful' conditions.
3 min read
The Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem is the third holiest site in Islam [Getty]

Tens of thousands of worshippers attended Friday prayers at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the first in the holy month of Ramadan, AFP correspondents said, amid increased Israeli violence in the Palestinian occupied territories.

Local authorities said the prayers at Islam's third holiest site passed peacefully despite concerns over the recent surge in violence from Israeli forces on Palestinians.

The mosque compound in the Israeli-annexed Old City of east Jerusalem has previously seen violence between Israeli soldiers and settlers and Palestinian worshippers, particularly during Ramadan.

Azzam al-Khatib, head of the Jordanian Waqf Islamic affairs council which administers the compound, told AFP "the prayers went peacefully and everything went well".

Israeli officials estimated the number of worshippers at more than 80,000 while the Waqf said 100,000 had attended the afternoon prayer.

Israeli police said it had deployed 2,300 officers across the city for the day.

The peaceful prayers on Friday come after hundreds of Israeli settlers violently stormed the holy site under the protection of Israeli forces the day prior - which was the first official day of the Islamic month.

The extremists participated in performing Jewish rituals, which are in violation of the status-quo implemented at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, where prayer is reserved to those who adhere to the Muslim faith only.

On Friday, however, a massive crowd streamed through the Bab al-Silsilah entrance to the compound with prayer mats in hand, an AFP correspondent said, while some posed for photos in front of the iconic golden Dome of the Rock.

62-year-old Aboud Hassan, who had travelled from Nablus early on Friday morning said: "Ramadan is the most important month of the year, and nothing matters to me except Al-Aqsa".

"Nobody can stop us from praying at Al-Aqsa, thank God. The prayers today went smoothly and without problems, thank God," he added.

Another AFP photographer saw huge queues at Qalandiya checkpoint, one of the main crossing points from the occupied West Bank into Israel, after Israeli authorities had eased restrictions on West Bank Palestinians visiting Jerusalem for prayer.

Worshipper Ebtissam Barrak, 26, said "nearly all the roads" in the area were blocked.

"Of course, we fear escalation but we hope that Ramadan will be peaceful and that Muslims will be able to enter Al-Aqsa to pray without any problems between Jews and Arabs," she added.

Last week Hamas warned Israel it would react to any "violations" at the compound during Ramadan.

Any attempt by Israel to "impose" its policies during Ramadan would be met with the "reaction of our people", said a statement attributed to Saleh al-Aruri, deputy head of the Gaza-based group's political bureau.

Israeli forces regularly impose checkpoints around the compound during Ramadan, searching cars and checking IDs of Palestinians seeking to worship at the holy site. Forces, as well as settlers, also often raid the mosque, disrupting prayers.

The mosque was subjected to a high number of raids from both forces and settlers during last year's Ramadan.

Since the start of the year, Israeli forces have killed 87 Palestinian adults, including 16 children, in what has been described as one of the bloodiest months in recent Palestinian memory.

Israel's increased violence has prompted condemnation from the international community.