Thousands attend Ramadan's first Friday prayer at al-Aqsa
Muslim worshippers converged on one of Islam's most revered sites in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday, after Israeli occupation authorties eased restrictions for the fasting month of Ramadan.
Tens of thousands from occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank had gone to Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third-holiest site, for Friday prayers, the first since this week's start of Ramadan.
There were also 500 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip who were allowed rare permission to pray at the site, an Israeli official said.
They made their way through the Old City's narrow alleyways and plazas, decorated in areas with lights and lanterns.
Women of all ages and men aged 40 and over from the Israeli-occupied West Bank were allowed into Jerusalem without permits, normally required to cross checkpoints and exit the territory.
|It took a while to get through the checkpoint... but it was worth it.|
According to occupation sources, 48,000 Palestinians from the West Bank were among Friday's visitors compared to a few thousand on an average Friday.
Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib, head of the Islamic Waqf which runs Al-Aqsa, told AFP he estimated 200,000 worshippers were in and around the compound.
Police and border guards were deployed in force with riot gear and assault rifles. Roads were cordoned off around the Old City and barricades were set up near the entrances to the mosque.
"This is the holiest place for Muslims in Palestine, and we're excited as always to make the journey," said 64-year-old Ahmed from the West Bank city of Ramallah, preferring to give only his first name.
"It took a while to get through the checkpoint at Qalandiya (between Ramallah and Jerusalem) but it was worth it."
This year was expected to mark the first time since the second Palestinian intifada or uprising in the early 2000s that Israeli authorities permitted West Bank residents to take direct buses from Palestinian cities to the Al-Aqsa.
But the direct buses were not in place this Friday, with Yoav Mordechai, an occupation who manages civilian affairs in the West Bank, saying it was "due to the lack of preparation of the Palestinian Authority."
There was no immediate reaction from the Palestinian Authority.
Men under 40 from the West Bank still needed permits to enter, and Palestinian officials say more must be done to allow access for all those who wished to pray to do so at Al-Aqsa.