04/17/2021, 11.54
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Ramadan: 70,000 visit Jerusalem’s mosque complex despite COVID-19

Worshippers, mostly Israeli Arabs, are back at al-Aqsa mosque on the first Friday prayer of Ramadan after last year's pandemic-related restrictions and lockdowns. Prayers were peaceful with no tense moments with police. Meanwhile, Israel is planning to reopen to vaccinated foreign visitors on 23 May under strict conditions.


Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Tens of thousands of Muslim worshippers gathered yesterday at Haram esh-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) in Jerusalem for the first Friday prayer during this year’s Ramadan, the holy month of fasting and prayer, marking an initial, albeit timid return to normality during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, the area was deserted, as were churches, like the Holy Sepulchre, and other places of worship. Al-Aqsa mosque was closed with only a few Muslim clerics having access to it.

Now, thanks to the massive vaccination campaign by Israel, which included its Arab citizens and some residents of the Palestinian Territories and East Jerusalem, some restrictions have been lifted.

According to local sources, about 70,000 people took part in the prayer yesterday afternoon, sign that life might be slowly going back to normal after lockdowns, closures and religious services restricted to virtual platforms.

Most worshippers were vaccinated Israeli Arab citizens, who came to visit al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam after Makkah and Madinah.

Israeli police implemented massive security measures to prevent access for those not authorised. However, witnesses agree that things went off without a hitch and prayers took place peacefully.

In the past, up 200,000 people could attend Friday prayers at Ramadan at the Mosque complex, which on several occasions turned into unrest.

Last Ramadan, "They (Israeli authorities) did not allow anyone to enter Al-Aqsa except for me,” said Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib, head of the Waqf Islamic affairs council in Jerusalem

Yesterday saw the largest crowds since the start of the pandemic of the novel coronavirus over a year ago, although fewer than the 100,000 expected by the Waqf leader.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, announced that the country would reopen to international tourism on 23 May with the first groups of vaccinated visitors.

Opening will be phased in with a select number of tourists following a year of no tourism and religious pilgrimages; the latter constitute one of the main sources of income for the local Christian community.

Next week, Israel is expected to release the guidelines and directives that will regulate access and the phased reopening. Individual visitors might have to wait until July but no date has been announced.

Visitors will have to undergo a PCR test before boarding their flight to Israel, and a serological test to prove their vaccination upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport.

Discussions are underway to reach agreements for vaccine-certificate validation with the countries of departure.

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