Huge crowds in Jerusalem for second Friday of Ramadan

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Thousands of Muslims packed Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound on the second Friday of Ramadan, for peaceful prayers that saw no clashes with Israeli security forces, an AFP journalist reported.

The Jordanian body that administers the mosque compound in east Jerusalem, which is annexed by Israel, said 250,000 people prayed at Islam’s third holiest site, built on what Jews call the Temple Mount, the holiest site of the Judaism.

Israeli police, which guard the entrances to the compound, said more than 100,000 worshipers attended – “almost twice as many as on the second Friday of Ramadan last year” – and about 2,000 officers were deployed in the city.

In recent years, the Old City has been the site of violence during Ramadan, but no major incidents were reported on Friday.

Violence has spiked in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the start of the year, raising fears of a flare-up during Ramadan. But in the last 10 days since the beginning of the holy fasting month there has been a relative lull in the violence.

Israel is allowing Palestinians from the occupied West Bank to enter Jerusalem for Ramadan prayers, with COGAT, the Israeli defense ministry body responsible for civil affairs in the Palestinian territories, saying more than 70,000 people crossed on Friday.

Posting images on Twitter of worshipers crowded at Israeli checkpoints on the way to Jerusalem, Palestinian civil affairs minister Hussein al-Sheikh blasted the “severe and disgraceful measures”.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army announced that the crossings from Gaza and the West Bank would be closed from Wednesday evening to Saturday night due to the Jewish holiday of Passover.

Palestinians from the West Bank will be able to cross on Friday for Ramadan prayers.

The crossings will be closed again on April 11 and 12, the end of Passover, the army said, adding that exceptions could be allowed for humanitarian or medical reasons.

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