The Muslim religious body that manages the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City has called for all other mosques in the area to shut Sunday to boost attendance at the flash point holy site in order to block Jewish visitors from going there on Tisha B’Av.
Sunday marks the start of Eid al-Adha, an Islamic holiday commemorating the end of the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, as well as the Quranic story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael. This year, the start of Eid al-Adha coincides with the Jewish fast day of Tisha B’Av, when Jews mourn the destruction of the temples and other disasters in Jewish history.
In a letter Friday, the Muslim Waqf trust, which oversees the site, called for the closure of all mosques in Jerusalem on Sunday except for the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, where it said all prayers should be held.
In a statement, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Mohammed Hussein, former grand mufti of Jerusalem Ekrima Sabri and senior Waqf official Abdel Azeem Sahlab announced that “all mosques in Jerusalem will be closed and that blessed Eid al-Adha prayers will take place in the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
They said the move comes in response to the Israel Police’s decision to “evaluate” whether to allow Jews on the Temple Mount on Sunday. “The people of Jerusalem and its surroundings will stand together in the face of the ambitions of the settlers,” they added.
Police were set to discuss over the weekend whether to allow Jews to visit the Temple Mount on Sunday. A police spokesman confirmed that security forces would assess whether to all permit “visitors,” including Jews, on the Temple Mount, without providing further details.
Bassem Abu Labda, a Waqf official, said in a phone call that Israel would be “wise” to bar Jews from the Temple Mount on Sunday.
Israeli authorities traditionally close the Temple Mount to non-Muslims during Islamic holidays, though in June police allowed Jewish visitors onto the site on Jerusalem Day, which fell this year during the final 10 days of Ramadan.
Hundreds of Palestinians clashed with police at the holy site to protest the entry of Jews on Jerusalem Day, which marks Israel’s unification of the city after capturing East Jerusalem and the Old City from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War.
Last year, a record number of Jews were reported to have visited the Temple Mount for Tisha B’Av, leading to rebukes from the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, which manages the compound through the Waqf.
Under an arrangement in place since Israel’s victory in the 1967 war, non-Muslims are allowed to visit the Temple Mount but not to pray there. Jews 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.
The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism and third-holiest to Muslims, who refer to it as the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound or the Noble Sanctuary.
Located in Jerusalem’s Old City, which Israel says is part of its undivided capital and which the Palestinians claim as part of their future state, it is one of the main flash points of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Also Friday, there were no weekly protests on the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, as Palestinian organizers called them off due to the approach of Eid al-Adha.