120,000 Muslim worshipers pray peacefully at Al-Aqsa on final Friday of Ramadan

Day passes without major incidents despite heightened tensions over Gaza war, Iranian threats of revenge; 11 arrested for pro-Hamas chants, scuffles with police

Muslim worshipers perform the last Friday prayers of Ramadan at the Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, Jerusalem, April 5, 2024. (Nicolas Garcia / AFPTV / AFP)

Tens of thousands of Muslim worshippers prayed peacefully at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on the last Friday of Ramadan despite fears of unrest due to the ongoing Gaza war and surging tensions with Iran.

The Islamic Waqf, which administers the holy site, estimated that some 120,000 people attended the afternoon prayers. The Israel police said “tens of thousands” attended and that prayers passed largely without incident amid a massive police deployment.

However, police said they arrested one person for attacking an officer, and two others for defying a previous order to stay away from Islam’s third-holiest site.

“Police will continue augmented operations in Jerusalem until Saturday morning, as the ‘Leilat al-Qader’ prayers end on the Temple Mount,” a police statement said.

Earlier in the day, police said they had arrested eight people for incitement when some of those attending the dawn prayers at Al-Aqsa “began chanting in support of terrorism.” Of those arrested, four were from northern Israel and had Israeli citizenship, while the other four were from East Jerusalem, police said.

Video on social media from the early Temple Mount prayers showed dozens shouting “with spirit and blood we will redeem Al Aqsa” and chanting “Abu Obeida,” referring to the Hamas spokesperson’s nom de guerre.

For the first time since the beginning of the holy month, a police drone dropped tear gas on the suspected inciters at the flashpoint site.

Tensions in Israel and the West Bank have been high since October 7, when terrorists burst through the Gaza border into Israel in a Hamas-led attack, killing at least 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and seizing 253 hostages.

Prayers at the Temple Mount during the previous three Fridays of Ramadan also ended comparatively peacefully, allaying Israeli fears that the Muslim holy month would be especially fraught due to the ongoing war on Hamas in Gaza. Yahya Sinwar, the Palestinian terror group’s military chief in Gaza, was believed by Israel to have pursued an escalation in the conflict during the Muslim holy month, which Israeli security forces generally considered a period of heightened tensions.

Muslim worshippers seen after the last Friday prayers of the holy month of Ramadan, in Jerusalem’s Old City, April 5, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Tensions were especially high on Friday, with Iran threatening retaliation for an alleged Israeli strike in Damascus that killed several Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps members, including the country’s top commander in Syria.

The funeral ceremony for the IRGC members coincided with Quds (Jerusalem) Day, which Iran and its allies have marked on the last Friday of Ramadan each year since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, claiming it as an occasion to express support for the Palestinians.

Wary of stoking tensions, the Israeli government in February nixed an attempt by far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir to block young Arab men with Israeli citizenship from going to the Temple Mount during Ramadan. However, restrictions were placed on West Bank Palestinians.

In 2021, clashes between police and Muslim devout atop the Temple Mount during Ramadan led to a military operation against Hamas in Gaza, during which Arab-Jewish violence erupted in parts of Israel as well.

The site is the holiest place in Judaism, where two biblical Temples once stood, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third-holiest shrine in Islam, making the site a perennial flashpoint of the Israeli-Arab conflict.

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