Security forces on high alert in Jerusalem for first Friday of Ramadan

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Israeli security forces were on alert in Jerusalem for the first Friday of Ramadan, before evening prayers at the Temple Mount.

The Muslim holy month, which began on Thursday and will end on April 21, often sees heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions, with frictions already high this year in Jerusalem and across the West Bank after months of deadly violence.

As the police tried to ensure calm, a high command in Jerusalem stressed that non-Muslims should be prevented from visiting the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem during prayers, and a large number of worshipers are expected to pray at the Al- Aqsa.

The Israeli army has eased some restrictions on movement for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to allow women, children, and some men to pray there without permits.

“The Jews will not be authorized to go up to the [Temple] Mount during Muslim prayer times,” Chief Superintendent Amir Ben-Kiki, head of police operations in the capital, told Kan public radio.

For Palestinian Muslims, a central part of the festival is worship at the Al-Aqsa Mosque — the third holiest site in Islam. Jews revere the same site as the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism

Palestinians gather in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound on the Temple Mount before the Friday noon prayer in Jerusalem on January 27, 2023. (Photo by Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Regarding the possible demolition of a Palestinian home during Ramadan, Ben-Kiki emphasized that the matter was up to the Jerusalem Municipality, with the police providing only security. Israeli authorities have generally refrained from such actions during Ramadan, although far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir – whose actions security officials have warned are fueling tensions – has been pushing to build illegal demolition in East Jerusalem.

“At the moment, we do not know that the municipality plans to destroy houses during Ramadan,” said Ben-Kiki.

Meanwhile, Ben Gvir’s office announced that he would attend a security briefing with police near the Temple Mount before making a public statement.

Border Police said about 2,400 officers were deployed on Friday to Jerusalem, the West Bank and other locations as part of the heightened security measures.

On Sunday, Israeli and Palestinian Authority delegations pledged to de-escalate pre-Ramadan tensions during a low-key, albeit low-stakes, regional summit in Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh.

Some officials have warned that this Ramadan could be the most difficult to handle in recent years, as tensions remained high amid deadly Israeli attacks on the West Bank and deadly Palestinian terror attacks, as well like an increase in settler violence.

According to the Haaretz daily, during a recent meeting with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, military officials said that Israel’s ongoing internal unrest, the decline in popularity of the Palestinian Authority, an increase in Jewish nationalist attacks, and the actions of Ben Gvir all contributing to his highly volatile state in the West Bank.

Israeli soldiers are seen at the scene of a shooting attack in the West Bank town of Hawara, March 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

A series of Palestinian attacks on Israel and the West Bank in recent months have left 15 people — almost all Israelis — dead and several others seriously injured. Many of the attacks that took place in the capital were carried out by Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem.

At least 85 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the year, most of them in attacks or during clashes with security forces, although some were unrelated civilians and others were killed under circumstances that are being investigated.

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