Friday prayers resume in Gaza despite new virus fears
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Friday prayers resume in Gaza despite new virus fears

Spike in cases has been reported among travelers returning from Egypt, raising concerns that health system in the coastal Strip could be overwhelmed

Palestinians wearing face masks read the Quran as they attend the last Friday noon Prayer of the holy month of Ramadan, in a mosque in Gaza City,  May. 22, 2020.  (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Palestinians wearing face masks read the Quran as they attend the last Friday noon Prayer of the holy month of Ramadan, in a mosque in Gaza City, May. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Gaza’s Hamas rulers allowed mosques to reopen for Friday prayers for the first time since March, despite a recent spike in new coronavirus cases within quarantine facilities in the isolated territory.

Worshippers were given hand sanitizer as they entered mosques. They brought their own prayer rugs, wore masks and kept space between themselves. The opening came ahead of Eid al-Fitr, a major holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Authorities in Gaza have reported 35 new cases in recent days, bringing the total number to 55. All the new cases were detected in quarantine facilities. But they have renewed concerns about a wider outbreak that could overwhelm the depleted health care system in the impoverished territory, which is home to 2 million people.

Israel and Egypt have imposed a blockade on Gaza since Hamas seized power from forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007. Three wars between Israel and Hamas, as well as Palestinian infighting, have also taken a heavy toll on the health care system.

The blockade is an attempt to prevent Hamas from smuggling in arms and other material to build fortifications and attack tunnels.

Gazans are only able to enter the territory through the Rafah crossing with Egypt and are immediately placed in mandatory quarantine for 21 days. Hamas said it would bar the entry of returnees until the end of June to allow health workers to deal with the new cases.

Palestinians wearing face masks attend the last Friday noon prayer of the holy month of Ramadan, in a mosque in Gaza City, Friday, May. 22, 2020. After nearly two months of closure due to the coronavirus, Gaza’s Hamas rulers decided to partially reopen mosques for the Friday noon prayer. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most people, who recover within a few weeks. But it is highly contagious and can cause severe illness or death, especially in older patients or those with underlying health problems.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report

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