Police were gearing up for possible unrest around the Old City of Jerusalem following the first Friday prayers of the Ramadan holiday, after three consecutive nights of rioting in the area.
The month of Ramadan normally sees increased tensions around Jerusalem’s Old City, which houses the flashpoint Temple Mount site, holy to both Jews and Muslims.
Friday prayers during the holy month usually draw hundreds of thousands of Muslim worshipers to the Temple Mount. This year, however, due to coronavirus restrictions, the prayer services are capped at 10,000 vaccinated Palestinians.
The past three days have seen nightly clashes in East Jerusalem, with tensions flaring over the police decision to prevent people from sitting on the stairs outside the Damascus Gate, as part of coronavirus restrictions during Ramadan.
The Palestinians were also angered earlier this week after Israel reportedly disconnected the power supply to the Islamic call to prayer on the Temple Mount as an official Memorial Day service was held in the adjacent Western Wall square on Tuesday evening,
Tensions are also soaring in East Jerusalem over concerns Israel will prevent the area from being included in the national Palestinian legislative elections scheduled for next month. Israel cracks down on Palestinian Authority activity inside Jerusalem, considering it a violation of Israeli sovereignty in its capital.
Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians, COGAT, said Tuesday that up to 10,000 vaccinated Palestinians will be allowed to pray Friday at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount to mark the first Friday of Ramadan.
“The measures are being taken to allow freedom of worship and religion on one hand, and on the other hand, prevent to the extent possible, the spread of COVID-19 in the region,” COGAT said in a statement.
After Friday, “an additional situation assessment will be carried out to examine the approved outline, taking into account both security and health needs.”
At least two police officers and five civilians have been hurt during the East Jerusalem clashes this week, which saw rioters lob firecrackers, rocks and glass bottles at cops and passersby, according to police. At least six suspects have been arrested.
The Temple Mount has long been a flashpoint, and confrontations there between Palestinians and Israeli security forces have occasionally turned deadly.
After capturing the area and the rest of the Old City from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War, Israel continued to grant the Waqf, which is funded and controlled by the Jordanian government, near-complete control of the area. Israeli security forces are present on the Mount and work in coordination with the Waqf. Jews are allowed to visit, but unlike Muslims, are strictly prohibited from praying on Temple Mount grounds.