Threat of Unrest Looms Over Al Aqsa on First Friday of Ramadan

A heavy Israeli police contingent checked worshipers on Friday entering the Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, where the threat of unrest loomed over the conclusion of Ramadan, the holiest month for Muslims and one that has taken on added significance during the war in Gaza.

Hamas, the militant group that launched the deadly Oct. 7 attack that prompted Israel to go to war in the enclave, issued a statement on Thursday urging Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Israel to go to Al Aqsa Mosque on Friday and “prevent all attempts of the occupation to desecrate it and impose its aggressive plans.”

“Let the first Friday of Ramadan be an escalation in all fields in support of Gaza, Jerusalem and Al Aqsa,” the group said, echoing earlier calls to action.

Al Aqsa is one of the holiest sites for Muslims and part of a compound that is sacred to Jews, who call it the Temple Mount. Muslim access to the mosque has long been a point of contention, and in recent years Israel has exerted tighter control over the compound, one of many restrictions endured by Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.

The rules have tightened further since Oct. 7, and most Palestinians may not be able to answer Hamas’s call to flock to Al Aqsa even if they want to.

Israel’s agency overseeing policy for the Palestinian territories said on Monday that only men over age 55, women over 50 and children under 10 would be allowed to enter Israel from the West Bank to pray at Al Aqsa on Fridays during Ramadan. On Monday, the first day of the Muslim holy month, Israeli police officers outside the compound chased away worshipers and struck some with batons, videos showed, as many attempted to enter the complex to pray but were denied entry under a different set of age restrictions.

The Israeli police said that they were “maintaining a balance between the freedom of worship and the imperative of ensuring security.”

In its statement on Thursday, Hamas called on young Palestinians in the West Bank to “rise up and go out in roaring crowds” and confront Israeli security officers. It called on supporters of the Palestinian cause “to continue their effective mass movement and angry solidarity marches, and to escalate all forms of mobilization and support,” putting pressure on their governments to stop the war in Gaza.

The group has issued similar statements during its war with Israel. So far they have not drawn much response from people in the West Bank, where fear and despair have been growing as Israeli raids have killed more than 425 people there since Oct. 7, according to the Palestinian health ministry in Ramallah.

Ayman Abu Ramouz and Rami Nazzal contributed reporting.

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