Well over 100,000 Palestinians participate in Friday prayers

Police brace for last Friday of Ramadan as Palestinians gather at Al-Aqsa Mosque

Dozens chant against Israel and in support of Hamas at flashpoint holy site, as over 2,000 officers sent to secure capital during mass prayers

Border Police patrol Jerusalem's Old City during the Passover and Ramadan holidays, April 10, 2023. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)
Border Police patrol Jerusalem's Old City during the Passover and Ramadan holidays, April 10, 2023. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

Palestinians crowded the Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa Mosque on Thursday night and extra security forces were headed to Jerusalem as the capital braced for the final Friday prayers of Ramadan, with tensions surrounding the holy site remaining high after clashes last week.

As of Friday afternoon, well over 100,000 Palestinians had participated in prayers atop the Mount, with no major disturbances reported.

Dozens of Palestinians at the site late Thursday night chanted against Israel and Jews, and praised terrorists including Hamas military commander Muhammad Deif, Army Radio reported.

Some of the Palestinians threw rocks and glass bottles at police. Border Police officers have been sent to the area but have not entered the Temple Mount.

Fighting between officers and Palestinians at the flashpoint site last week  led to two deadly terror attacks, and rocket fire from Hamas, and the terror group has urged Palestinians to flock to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits atop the Temple Mount, and not to leave the site.

Hamas has warned Israel against allowing continued visits of Jews to the Temple Mount, and trumpeted its rocket fire at Israel last week as protecting the site.

Tens of thousands of Muslim worshipers attend the last Friday prayers of the holy month of Ramadan, at the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, April 14, 2023. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

Police and Israel Defense Forces troops are being sent to Jerusalem in preparation for the Friday prayers, which draw tens of thousands of worshipers during the month-long Ramadan holiday.

Over 2,000 police and Border Police officers will deploy around Jerusalem on Friday, with reinforcements headed to the Old City, the outskirts of the capital and East Jerusalem, Ynet reported.

Police called on the public to follow police instructions and notify law enforcement of any suspicious activities amid a high number of warnings about possible terror attacks.

Police stressed that they intend to uphold the freedom of worship at holy sites while preserving security and public order, and preventing incitement and violence.

Some streets around the Old City will be closed to vehicles from Friday morning until the afternoon.

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.

Security forces are also on alert in the West Bank following warnings about possible terror attacks and are continuing the search for a terror cell that killed Lucy Dee and her daughters, Maia and Rina.

Further stoking security fears, has been a general increase in incitement on social media, and on Friday, Iran will hold its annual Quds Day, or Jerusalem Day. Iran commemorates the day with anti-Israel speeches, events and threats to “liberate” Jerusalem from Israeli control.

Israel is concerned about Iran-linked attacks on Jewish targets abroad and possible rocket, drone and cyber attacks against Israel, Channel 12 reported. Iran backs terror groups including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah.

Palestinians protest after Friday prayers during Ramadan, at the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound and Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, April 7, 2023. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

The last few days have been relatively quiet on the security front, but clashes last week led to rocket fire from Gaza, Lebanon and Syria, and two deadly terror attacks — the shooting that killed Lucy Dee and her daughters in the West Bank and a ramming that killed an Italian tourist in Tel Aviv.

Police said Thursday they had foiled two separate attempted terror attacks in Jerusalem’s Old City before and during the Passover holiday.

In an effort to head off violence, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office has announced that Jews and other non-Muslims will be barred from visiting the Temple Mount during the last 10 days of Ramadan, starting from Wednesday.

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.”

Tuesday’s decision was announced hours after Hamas’s statement calling on Palestinians to go to the Al-Aqsa Mosque during the final ten days of Ramadan and not to leave the site, and warning Israel against allowing visits of Jews there.

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.

Police escort Jewish visitors marking the holiday of Passover at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound atop the Temple Mount, in the Old City of Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, April 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Last week, police said hundreds of Palestinians barricaded themselves inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque with explosive devices, rocks and fireworks in order to target Israeli officers and civilians. Police said they were left with no choice but to enter the mosque overnight Tuesday-Wednesday, which then sparked intense clashes with the Palestinians inside.

Police managed to overpower the rioters but several people inside captured footage of officers beating and apprehending Palestinians, which went viral on social media and sparked massive international uproar. Hamas terrorists also responded by firing several barrages of rockets at Israel from both Lebanon and Gaza, leading to Israeli retaliatory airstrikes.

Top police officials reportedly believe the decision to bar Jews from the site has prevented clashes that could have started a wider conflagration in so-called mixed cities with significant Jewish and Arab populations.

Military intelligence officials have also reportedly told political leaders that renewed violence is still a threat, according to a Channel 12 report.

Israeli troops are seen operating in the West Bank refugee camp of Aqabat Jabr, April 10, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Intelligence assessments cited in the report said tensions are expected to persist until Ramadan ends next week and that Israel should hold off on retaliating to recent attacks by Hamas, Hezbollah and Iranian proxies in Syria.

The report also said Military Intelligence warned the friction surrounding the Temple Mount was uniting various fronts and furthering the impact of online incitement against Israel.

Israel has vowed repeatedly to maintain the status quo at the site, whereby Jews are allowed to visit there — under numerous restrictions and only during limited hours — but not pray. However, Jews have increasingly been allowed to quietly pray there, while Palestinians have instigated violence at the site and unilaterally designated more parts of the site for Muslim prayer.

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