Thousands of Palestinians headed to occupied East Jerusalem to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the second Friday of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, in spite of Israeli restrictions on freedom of movement.
Hundreds of members of Israeli police and military forces have been deployed across the Old City and its vicinity since early Friday morning Palestinian security services also deployed members near Israeli checkpoints leading to Jerusalem City.
The Islamic Endowment, the trust responsible for managing the compound, reported that 300,000 Palestinians attended the prayers at Al-Aqsa.
Palestinian residents of the West Bank are not allowed to access occupied East Jerusalem or Israel without an Israeli-issued permits.
Ramadan typically sees a slight ease of permit restrictions on Palestinians, particularly women, though the thousands who do get permits are still subjected to long waits and checkpoints and searches by armed Israeli forces.
During Ramadan, Israeli authorities only grant permits to East Jerusalem to men above the age of 40, women of all ages, and children younger than 11 years of age from the occupied West Bank.
Meanwhile, Israeli authorities have allowed 100 Palestinians above the age of 55 from the besieged Gaza Strip to travel to occupied East Jerusalem in order to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Fridays during Ramadan, months after Israel suspended Friday Al-Aqsa visits for elderly Palestinians from the besieged coastal enclave in December.
However, the 100 Palestinians permitted to leave Gaza to Al-Aqsa every Friday is just half of those who were typically allowed to travel to Al-Aqsa throughout the year as part of the ceasefire deal between Palestinian militant groups and Israel which ended the 2014 war on Gaza.
Meanwhile, according Israeli rights group Gisha, Israel had also allocated 300 permits for Gaza-based members of the Palestinian Red Crescent, members of labor unions, and those employed in international organization. However, the permits were only issued for Palestinians who were over the age of 50 and only under the agreement that Palestinians travel from Gaza to Al-Aqsa in the company of an Israeli Civil Affairs Committee.
In addition, Israeli authorities cancelled permits allowing residents of Gaza to visit their families in the occupied West Bank and Israel during Ramadan-- such permits were issued during the previous two years, according to Gisha. The group pointed out that almost a third of Palestinians in Gaza have family members residing in the West Bank and Israel whom they are not permitted to see at all.
"Though this renewal of Friday prayer permits is likely to be portrayed as a gesture of goodwill toward the Palestinians, it actually signifies a tightening of the closure on Gaza," Gisha reported.
"The violation of the rights to freedom of movement and freedom of religion, and the threat of collective punishment if conditions are not met by individual worshippers, only emphasize the punitive and arbitrary nature of the permit regime, as well as the depth of Israel’s continuous control over the Gaza Strip."