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Ramadan clashes last year escalated into Gaza war

Friday prayers on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount pass without clashes ahead of Ramadan

Police have deployed in force across Jerusalem amid terror wave; IDF sends 12 extra battalions to West Bank

Muslim worshippers gather for Friday prayers, next to the Dome of the Rock Mosque on the Temple Mount on Friday, April 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
Muslim worshippers gather for Friday prayers, next to the Dome of the Rock Mosque on the Temple Mount on Friday, April 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Friday’s Muslim prayers on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount passed without special incident as of late afternoon amid tesnsions ahead of the holy month of Ramadan,

Israeli forces had been on the highest alert ahead of the prayers at the flashpoint site following a wave of terror attacks. Ramadan begins Saturday in Israel.

Police brought in hundreds of reinforcements to the city and set up a special joint command, while the Israel Defense Forces deployed an extra 12 battalions in the West Bank, where a series of large protests are planned.

On Friday morning, Defense Minister Benny Gantz ordered the voluntary call-up of Border Police reservists to bolster officers. Three companies — in total 300 officers — of reservists from the paramilitary police unit are to be brought in.

Hundreds of IDF soldiers were also sent to help police patrol central locations in major cities, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

The precautions come after 11 Israelis were killed in three terror attacks over the last 10 days, the deadliest period since the Second Intifada.

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.

Ramadan begins Saturday in Israel.

Despite the terror attacks, Israel has decided not to limit attendance at Friday prayers at the Temple Mount’s Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The Mount is considered holy to both Jews and Muslims and Jews. The site is revered by Jews as their holiest site, where both biblical Temples stood, and is the third holiest site in Islam.

At a cabinet meeting Wednesday in the wake of the terror attacks, ministers reportedly heeded calls by the heads of the various security agencies not to impose collective punishments on Palestinians by reversing plans aimed at calming tensions around the holy month of Ramadan. Some ministers had suggested Israel place the West Bank on lockdown or take other measures to restrict Palestinian access to Jerusalem’s Old City.

A Palestinian woman walks past Israeli security forces patrolling Jerusalem’s Old City on March 31, 2022. (Photo by Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Instead, Israel will issue additional entry permits for elderly Muslim worshipers to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, expand the hours of such permits, and implement other measures aimed at easing freedom of movement for Palestinians, according to an Israeli official.

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.

Jordan’s King Abdullah, who visited the West Bank this week, has also warned that calm will only be maintained so long as freedom of movement for Muslims at the Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan is not curtailed.

Learning the lessons from last year, police have set up a joint control room with representatives of the Shin Bet, the crime prevention bureaus and various intelligence agencies that will deal with online incitement, the Walla news site reported.

“We are heading into a complex month,” said Jerusalem police commander Doron Turgeman. “There won’t be a single TikTok that I won’t deal with,” he added.

Jerusalem District Police Commander Doron Turgeman (2nd-R) at the scene of a suspected shooting attack in Jerusalem’s Old City on November 21, 2021. (Israel Police)

Security officials told Walla that in recent days social media sites had been flooded with Palestinian calls to come to the Temple Mount for prayers and there were fears there could be violence.

In the run-up to last year’s war, Jerusalem saw several days of violence, including a number of assaults on Jews that were filmed and later uploaded to the TikTok video-sharing app, including one of an East Jerusalem teenager slapping two ultra-Orthodox boys on the light rail. These were met with attacks on Arabs, including chants of “Death to Arabs” heard during the assaults.

“We are making major efforts to ensure freedom of worship, but we don’t intend to accept violence,” a security official told Walla. “There is an effort by Hamas and other groups inciting to set the West Bank on fire.”

However, the official said the major concern was with Friday prayers next week, the first of the month of Ramadan.

Police were reinforcing their presence at sites that have been frequent flashpoints and on major roads over a fear that “lone-wolf” or “copycat” attacks could take place like the ones in Beersheba, Beni Brak and Hadera over the last week.

Also of concern, Palestinians are planning three large protests in the West Bank and the fear is that mass casualties at the demonstrations could lead to widespread unrest, the official said.

Far-right politician MK Itamar Ben Gvir seen after visiting the Temple Mount, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City on March 31, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Tensions at the Temple Mount were further raised when extreme-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir made a visit to the Temple Mount on Thursday.

Ben Gvir said he had received death threats from the Hamas spokesman ahead of the visit, “and I advise [the spokesman] to shut up. I don’t know why the Israeli government doesn’t eliminate him in a targeted strike. He’s a terrorist,” he said.

He called the Waqf Muslim authorities who administer the religious sites on the mount “terrorists,” and said that “whoever controls the Temple Mount controls the Land of Israel. The enemy understands this too.”

Late Thursday,  a mob of dozens of young Jewish teens was filmed roaming the streets of downtown Jerusalem and chanting “death to Arabs.”

The scenes join several others that have been captured in recent days following the terror attacks in Beersheba, Hadera, and Bnei Brak.

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