Ramadan prayers in Jerusalem end peacefully, in stark contrast to Gaza violence
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Ramadan prayers in Jerusalem end peacefully, in stark contrast to Gaza violence

200,000 Muslim pilgrims visit Temple Mount on final Friday of holy month, pose no challenge to hundreds of police deployed in capital

Palestinians gather to perform the last Friday prayers of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the old city of Jerusalem on June 8, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / HAZEM BADER)
Palestinians gather to perform the last Friday prayers of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the old city of Jerusalem on June 8, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / HAZEM BADER)

Ramadan prayer services at the Temple Mount ended peacefully on Friday, police said, amid clashes along the Gaza border that reportedly saw four Palestinian protesters killed by Israeli soldiers.

Police said hundreds of officers were deployed throughout Jerusalem’s Old City and the surrounding area to accommodate the 200,000 Muslim worshipers who took part in the midday prayers at the holy site.

Tens of thousands entered Jerusalem from the West Bank to pray on what was the final Friday of Ramadan. The crowds dispersed without incident, in stark contrast to the day’s violence at the Gaza border.

During the holy month of Ramadan, increased religious observance and the closure of many businesses during daylight hours sometimes leads to heightened Palestinian tensions and clashes with troops. Israel was further concerned that clashes could break out in the West Bank and East Jerusalem during the holiday amid widespread Palestinian anger over the deadly violence in Gaza.

Last month, Israel announced that it would ease travel restrictions for Palestinians in the West Bank during Ramadan, but not for residents of the Gaza Strip in light of the ongoing violent protests there.

Previous Fridays during Ramadan had also seen tens of thousands of West Bank Palestinians and Arab Israelis visit the Temple Mount for prayers, without major incident, despite repeated Hamas calls for protests.

A Palestinian youth uses a slingshot to hurl stones at Israeli forces during clashes near the border with Israel, east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on June 8, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The Gaza Strip has seen weekly, sometimes daily, clashes along the security fence with Israel since March 30, as part of “March of Return” protests backed by the ruling terrorist organization, Hamas.

The ongoing Gaza protests have included a number of attempts to damage and breach the security fence and, increasingly, the flying of kites bearing incendiary devices into Israeli territory, where they have set fire to thousands of dunams of agricultural fields and grasslands.

On Friday, Gaza health officials said four Palestinians, one of them a teenager, were killed in clashes with Israeli troops during the 11th consecutive week of border clashes. Over 100 people were injured by live fire in clashes along the security fence, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. Another 525 Palestinians were injured from tear gas inhalation, 8 of them seriously, the ministry said.

The IDF said protesters hurled grenades, improvised explosives and rocks at soldiers, burned tires and flew dozens of incendiary kites and balloons into Israeli territory, speaking a number of fires.

Troops fired tear gas canisters at the mobs of demonstrators. The army also confirmed that live rounds were fired in accordance with its rules of engagement.

In the two months of mass protests at the Gaza border, over 110 Palestinians have been killed and thousands wounded by Israeli military fire. Most of the fatalities were members of terror groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have acknowledged. Israel said its troops were defending its border and accused Hamas of trying to carry out attacks under the cover of the protests.

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