Hundreds of thousands of Muslims participated in prayers at the Temple Mount compound on the last Friday of Ramadan, with fears of large-scale clashes between police and worshipers on the site and snowballed tensions largely fading from view.
Some 130,000 worshipers were on hand for noon prayers, according to Israeli authorities, while the Islamic Waqf which administers the site estimated a crowd of 250,000 over the entire day.
The Friday prayers took place largely without incident, though police said they detained eight Palestinians for chants inciting violence and waving flags belonging to terror groups.
A large banner of the Hamas terror group was seen unfurled by young men at the compound during the service, though police decided not to enter the compound in order to confiscate it.
Ten Palestinians were injured due to the crowded conditions on the Temple Mount, according to the Red Crescent emergency service, which said two of them required hospitalization.
More than 2,000 Israel Police officers and Border Police were deployed in Jerusalem to help secure the city for the Friday prayers.
מנהלת הוואקף בירושלים מדווחת על 250 אלף מתפללים ביום שישי האחרון של הרמדאן. הנוכחות במתחם והמספרים היא גם אמירה מדינית. עובדה נוספת ברגע שאין חיכוך ואין התרסה ואין הפגנת כוח , זה עובד ובשקט. רבע מיליון איש באו להתפלל ולהיות נוכחים. pic.twitter.com/Ntb0rUkAIf
— Jack khoury.جاك خوري (@KhJacki) April 14, 2023
Over one million Muslims visited the Temple Mount — known to them as the Noble Sanctuary — throughout the entire holy month of Ramadan.
Roughly 100,000 of the worshipers crossed into Israel from the West Bank on Friday, enduring long lines and crowded conditions at IDF-run checkpoints to do so. Israel traditionally allows a large number of mainly female and elderly Palestinians along with children to enter during Ramadan in order to attend prayers at the Temple Mount’s Al-Aqsa Mosque or visit family in Israel.
But the number of Palestinians allowed in has often been contingent on the security situation, which has been fraught in recent weeks. Several terror attacks have taken place in the West Bank, including one in which an Israeli mother and her two daughters were killed while driving in the Jordan Valley.
The Foreign Ministry published several tweets highlighting the large number of Muslims who were able to pray at the Temple Mount, stressing that Israel is committed to “freedom of worship” for all faiths in Jerusalem.
In the past, the US has quietly urged Israel not to use the phrase, since it is seen as a nod to allowing Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount, Biden administration officials have told The Times of Israel. Under a tacit status quo agreement that governs the site, only Muslims may worship in the compound, while non-Muslims can visit but not pray.
Recent years have seen a massive uptick in Jewish visitors to the site along with a quiet, but well-document shift in police poliyc to allow hushed Jewish prayer.
The developments have intensified long-held claims by Palestinians and Arab countries that Israel is violating the Temple Mount status quo — an accusation Israel vehemently denies.
Tensions in and around Jerusalem’s Old City have been high in recent weeks, in particular during the overlap of the Passover and Ramadan holidays and amid repeated clashes between security forces and worshipers atop the Temple Mount. Passover ended on Thursday.
דרך ״מסלול הומניטרי נשים״ וגם כזה לגברים, עוברים ועוברות הפלסטינים כדי אולי להצליח להגיע למקום הקדוש שלהם ולהתפלל. pic.twitter.com/YB6vAWooQa
— Fadi Amun | فادي أمون | פאדי אמון (@FadiAmun) April 14, 2023
On April 4, police said that several hundred Palestinians barricades themselves inside the mosque with explosive devices, rocks and fireworks in order to target Israeli civilians and security forces.
Israel says police were left with no choice but to enter the mosque in order to overpower the rioters but several people inside captured footage of officers brutally beating and apprehending Palestinians, which went viral on social media and sparked massive uproar across the globe. Hamas responded by firing several barrages of rockets at Israel from both Lebanon and Gaza, leading to Israeli retaliatory airstrikes.
Further stoking security fears has been a general increase in incitement on social media. On Friday, Iran held its annual Quds Day, or Jerusalem Day, commemorating the occasion with anti-Israel speeches and marches around the country threatening to “liberate” Jerusalem from Israeli control.
Israel is concerned about Iran-linked attacks on Jewish targets abroad and possible rocket, drone and cyberattacks against Israel, Channel 12 reported. Iran backs terror groups including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah. Several websites, including banks and Israel’s postal service, were indeed targeted by a hacker group calling itself “Anonymous Sudan,” which some experts have linked to Russia.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced last week that Jews and other non-Muslims would be barred from visiting the Temple Mount during the last 10 days of Ramadan, in an effort to head off violence.
Freedom of worship in #Jerusalem????????
✅More than 130,000 Muslim worshipers attended the noon prayer today, the last Friday of Ramadan. The highest number since the beginning of Ramadan
✅Over a million Muslim worshipers have come to theTemple Mount since the beginning of Ramadan pic.twitter.com/5sRdZN4ntl
— Israel Foreign Ministry (@IsraelMFA) April 14, 2023
While the decision was in line with longstanding Israeli policy aimed at limiting friction during the holiday period, there had been speculation that the new hardline government would change course, with far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir pushing to allow Jews to continue ascending the Temple Mount through the end of Ramadan
The statement from Netanyahu’s office on Tuesday said that the decision to shutter the Temple Mount to Jewish visitors was unanimously recommended by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai following a consultation earlier that day.
Ben Gvir blasted the decision as a “serious mistake.”
The Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif or Noble Sanctuary, is the holiest place for Jews as the site of the two ancient Jewish temples, and Al-Aqsa is the third-holiest shrine in Islam.