Temple Mount to reopen next week after 2-month closure, Waqf announces

As coronavirus outbreak abates in Israel and West Bank, administrators of holy site say worshipers will return after Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr

A man walks past the Dome of the Rock, in the Temple Mount compound, in the Old City of Jerusalem on March 16, 2020. (Emmanuel DUNAND/AFP)
A man walks past the Dome of the Rock, in the Temple Mount compound, in the Old City of Jerusalem on March 16, 2020. (Emmanuel DUNAND/AFP)

The Temple Mount holy compound in Jerusalem’s Old City will reopen next week, the Islamic Waqf announced Tuesday, two months after closing it due to the coronavirus and with the outbreak continuing to abate.

The mount is revered by both Jews, as the site of the Biblical temples, and Muslims, who refer to it as the Al-Aqsa Mosque or the Noble Sanctuary, and is a site where large numbers of Palestinians often gather, especially for Friday prayers. It has long been a flashpoint between Israelis and Palestinians.

“The council decided to lift the suspension on worshipers entering the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque after the Eid al-Fitr holiday,” a statement from the Waqf organization said, referring to the Muslim holiday expected to begin this weekend. The exact date when the festival ends has yet to be determined.

The exact terms of the reopening of the site will be announced later, including whether it will also be reopened for Jews and tourists.

The mosque’s director, Omar al-Kiswani, told AFP he hoped for no restrictions on the number of worshipers but said the governing body would announce the exact “mechanisms and measures later.”

He said the details would be worked out to “ensure we are not subjected to criticism on the pretext we have broken health rules.”

Muslims pray at the Temple Mount during Ramadan (courtesy, Atta Awisat)

The Temple Mount has been closed since March 22, when the COVID-19 outbreak was gaining steam. Waqf employees continued to work as usual and perform prayers at Al-Aqsa.

The Waqf is backed by the Jordanian Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs, which administers the site.

Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which rules the West Bank, have been gradually easing restrictions on public gatherings as infection rates have slowed down.

Under an arrangement in place since Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six Day War, non-Muslims are allowed to visit the Temple Mount but not to pray there.

Jews in religious garb are allowed to enter in small groups during limited hours, but are taken through a predetermined route, are closely watched and are prohibited from praying or displaying any religious or national symbols, or even drinking from water fountains.

AFP contributed to this report.

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