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Virus czar says Israel powerless to stop mass gatherings on Temple Mount

‘There is no solution,’ Nachman Ash reportedly says, after 18,000 Muslim worshipers pack flashpoint Jerusalem site, even as infections among Palestinians soar

Palestinians gather to protest against the French president, in the Temple Mount compound, in the Old City of Jerusalem on October 30, 2020. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
Palestinians gather to protest against the French president, in the Temple Mount compound, in the Old City of Jerusalem on October 30, 2020. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash has acknowledged that Israel has no way to enforce the pandemic restrictions on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, where tens of thousands of Muslim worshipers gather every Friday, according to recordings aired by the Kan public broadcaster on Sunday.

“There is no solution,” Ash was quoted as saying during a closed-door meeting on the subject, after last Friday’s prayer at the flashpoint site drew some 18,000 Palestinians.

After being told by a police representative at the meeting that the National Security Council was dealing with the issue, Ash responded wryly: “What does that mean, the National Security Council is ‘on it’? The NSC say they have nothing to do about it.”

The report came after the broadcaster publicized photos of thousands of Muslim worshipers packed in the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the mount without masks. It also came as virus rates soared among Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Israel’s coronavirus czar Nachman Ash visits the Jerusalem Municipality on November 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

An official present at the meeting underlined that the Waqf Islamic custodians of the holy site are trying to uphold the health precautions.

“How can they, if there are 18,000 people?” responded Ash.

The Waqf, a Jordanian-appointed council, oversees Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. It claims exclusive authority over the Temple Mount compound and says it is not subject to Israeli jurisdiction. Tensions often escalate at the site.

The Temple Mount is the holiest place in Judaism, as the site of the biblical Temples. It is the site of the third holiest shrine in Islam. Israel captured the Temple Mount and Jerusalem’s Old City in the 1967 Six Day War, and extended sovereignty throughout Jerusalem. However, it allowed the Waqf to continue to maintain religious authority atop the mount, where Jews are allowed to visit, but not to pray.

Jordan’s role as custodian was enshrined by the landmark Israeli-Jordanian peace agreement in 1994.

The Temple Mount was closed for weeks in March, as Israel imposed a nationwide lockdown. In September, as Israel entered its second countrywide closure, the Waqf initially said it would close the compound, but later reversed the decision, fearing that Jewish worshipers would be allowed to continue to visit.

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