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Thousands head to Al-Aqsa for Ramadan

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Tens of thousands of Palestinians from across the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip headed to pray in the Al-Aqsa Mosque for the first Friday of Ramadan, passing into Jerusalem with permits issued by Israel during the holy month.

As worshipers made their way to the holy site, Palestinian police were deployed near Israeli checkpoints to regulate traffic.

Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld told Ma’an Israeli security forces were deployed according to standard security measures, however noting that the forces were working in increased coordination.

Palestinian sources reported increased presence of Israeli forces at checkpoints and on Jerusalem street corners.

While Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are subject to strict limitations on movement into East Jerusalem, part of the occupied Palestinian territories, Israel has historically made gestures ahead of and during Ramadan, partially easing restrictions.

This year Israeli authorities gave permission for the entrance of men above the age of 40, children under 12, and women of all ages. Nearly a quarter of a million worshipers from occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Israel are expected to perform prayers in the Al-Aqsa Mosque Friday.

The Israeli authorities also allowed 500 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to travel to the compound via the Erez crossing.

Compounds and hallways of the mosque were crowded with worshipers Friday from all Palestinian cities and villages, as well as Muslims from other countries.

The announcement of eased restrictions this Ramadan came shortly after the director of the Palestinian Ministry of Endowment, Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib, told Ma’an that every Palestinian Muslim has the right to pray at the holy site during Ramadan, criticizing heavy Israeli restrictions on access.

“All the people of Palestine have the right to access the city and pray in the Al-Aqsa Mosque in full freedom without the need for permits,” he said.

Despite announcements that 400 Palestinian buses would be arranged to carry worshipers from checkpoints to Jerusalem Friday, the Ministry of Transportation has not received the necessary permits from the Palestinian civil affairs department, the Palestinian official Jamal Shqeir, told Ma’an.

Sources at the Palestinian liaison told journalists at the checkpoint 300 in northern Bethlehem that Palestinian buses may be allowed to carry people from city centers next Friday if more permits are issued.

If executed, the move marks the first time since the nineties that Palestinian-plated buses are allowed to travel directly to Jerusalem through checkpoints, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. MAANNEWS

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