Clashes in East Jerusalem as police limit Old City access amid pandemic

Israel police keep non-residents out of area, while Muslim authorities shut Al-Aqsa Mosque on Temple Mount, allowing only a few hundred to pray in its courtyard

Israeli police officers stand guard outside the Old City on March 20, 2020, in Jerusalem. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Israeli police officers stand guard outside the Old City on March 20, 2020, in Jerusalem. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Clashes were reported between Palestinians and police around Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday, with at least one arrest made, as authorities sought to limit access to Friday prayers at the Temple Mount to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Riots were reported outside the Old City after police prevented Palestinians from reaching the site and closed the Old City doors to anyone except local residents. Police used riot-control methods to disperse the crowd.

Friday prayers were held in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, though in a severely downscaled format, despite Muslim prayer sites being closed across the globe.

The Jordanian Waqf religious authority which runs the site on the Temple Mount, Islam’s third holiest, closed the mosque itself, leaving worshippers to pray in the plaza outside.

Just a few hundred faithful attended, compared with the 30,000 who usually take part. Worshipers gathered in small groups, but rain forced them to gather in sheltered spots in violation of Health Ministry rules.

The decision by the Waqf came as Saudi Arabia has closed the religion’s two holiest spots, in Mecca and Medina, to worshipers.

Istiqlal grand mosque in Indonesia’s capital, the largest mosque in Southeast Asia, which is usually packed with thousands of Muslims during Friday prayers, also decided to cancel mass prayers for the coming two weeks to curb the coronavirus spread.


East Jerusalem has been cut off from the West Bank by an indefinite closure aimed at stemming the spread of the virus, and movement within it has been restricted.

Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Kaila announced on Friday that 17 persons in the Bethlehem area have recovered from the novel coronavirus. The development means that the number of cases confirmed by Palestinian health authorities in the West Bank has dropped from 48 to 31.

Authorities around the world have moved to restrict large gatherings, including religious ones.

Synagogues in Israel were allowed to remain open with the chief rabbinate limiting the number of participants in prayers to 10, and many local religious authorities instructing believers to pray at home.

The Israeli Health Ministry said Friday it had confirmed 705 cases of coronavirus.

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