Tens of thousands of Palestinians attended afternoon prayers at the Temple Mount for the first Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, as Israeli security forces were on high alert in Jerusalem following the deadly terror attack in Tel Aviv the night before.
Many West Bank Palestinians crossed into Israel to pray at the holy site on Friday morning, in accordance with relaxed restrictions on movement during Ramadan.
A Waqf official said around 80,000 worshippers prayed at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, a significantly lower number than usual.
“During a normal Ramadan Friday, we would expect to see as many as 200,000,” Azzam al-Khatib said in a phone call.
Khatib said fewer worshippers arrived from the West Bank than expected, although he declined to comment further as to why.
“Some people were scared to come, because of what happened yesterday, and we were worried they’d close off the West Bank. But they’re here, praise God,” said Adam, an East Jerusalem Palestinian who works at a shop in the Old City.
The prayers ended peacefully, though tension in the air was palpable following Thursday’s terror shooting in Tel Aviv, with both police and IDF deploying additional forces across Jerusalem.
Many police officers were deployed around Damascus Gate, where daily clashes have erupted between Palestinians and security forces since the start of Ramadan last weekend. Fences tightly directed the tide of worshippers out of the plaza as Border Police look on.
As the majority of Palestinian worshippers left the Old City, several dozen remained on the Temple Mount, chanting pro-Hamas slogans.
“Put sword next to sword, we’re Mohammad Deif’s men,” the Palestinians chant, referring to the Gaza-ruling terror group’s shadowy military commander.
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Ahead of the prayers, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held a situational assessment with security officials.
The Israeli precautions came after 13 people were killed in four terror attacks over the past two weeks, the deadliest period since the Second Intifada in the early 2000s.
The attacks included a shooting Thursday night in which two people were killed and numerous others wounded after a Palestinian terrorist opened fire on a bar in central Tel Aviv.
Despite the recent attacks, Israel has decided not to limit attendance at Friday prayers at the Temple Mount’s Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The Temple Mount is considered holy to both Jews and Muslims. The site is revered by Jews as their holiest site, where both Jewish Temples stood and is the third holiest site in Islam.
At last week’s cabinet meeting, the heads of the various security agencies reportedly urged the government not to reverse plans aimed at calming tensions around Ramadan, after some ministers suggested Israel place the West Bank in lockdown or take other measures to restrict Palestinian access to Jerusalem’s Old City.
Police predicted that any reversal on already announced plans would spark more unrest, the Kan public broadcaster reported, though the report also said that police signed an order banning certain Hamas members from visiting the Old City and other areas of Jerusalem during the holy month.
Last May, tensions around Ramadan and Jerusalem escalated into an 11-day war with the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers and the worst internecine clashes in decades between Jewish and Arab Israelis.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who spoke with Bennett this week, has also warned that calm will only be maintained so long as access for Muslims at the Al-Aqsa Mosque is not curtailed during Ramadan.