Under the cover of war, Israeli police forces have imposed severe restrictions on the access of Palestinians to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem, preventing most of them from attending the Friday prayers at the holy site.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is the third holiest site in Islam, has been a flashpoint of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian armed group that controls Gaza. The war, which began on October 7, 2023, when Hamas gunmen stormed into southern Israel and killed more than 1,400 civilians and soldiers, has claimed more than 12,000 Palestinian and 70 Israeli lives so far, according to health officials.
The Israeli police have justified the restrictions on the grounds of security and public order, citing the ongoing rocket fire from Gaza and the unrest in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They have also claimed that they are following the status quo agreement, which regulates the access and worship rights of Muslims and Jews at the compound.
However, Palestinians and human rights groups have denounced the restrictions as a violation of their religious freedom and a provocation that could escalate the violence. They have accused the Israeli police of using excessive force and arbitrary measures to prevent Palestinians from reaching the mosque, such as erecting checkpoints, closing roads, detaining and assaulting worshippers, and limiting the age and gender of those who are allowed to enter.
According to the Islamic Waqf, the Jordanian-appointed body that oversees the Muslim affairs at the compound, the Israeli police have barred most Palestinians from attending the Friday prayers at the mosque since the start of the war, allowing only a few hundred to enter, compared to tens of thousands who used to pray there before the conflict.
The Waqf also said that the Israeli police have interfered with the religious rituals and ceremonies at the mosque, such as the call to prayer, the sermon, and the Eid al-Adha celebration. It also said that the Israeli police have facilitated the incursions of Jewish extremists into the compound, who have performed prayers and rituals in violation of the status quo agreement.
The status quo agreement, which was reached between Israel and Jordan in the wake of Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, stipulates that the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is a Muslim-only prayer site, and that Jews can visit but not pray there. The agreement also gives Jordan the custodianship of the Islamic and Christian holy sites in the city.
The Israeli police have denied violating the status quo agreement or the rights of the Palestinians, and said that they are acting in accordance with the law and the court rulings. They also said that they are coordinating with the Waqf and the other relevant parties to maintain the calm and the security at the compound.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which is also revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, has been a source of tension and conflict for decades, as both sides claim religious and historical rights to the site. The compound has witnessed several clashes and confrontations between the Israeli forces and the Palestinian worshippers, especially during the holy months of Ramadan and Tishrei.
The international community has urged both sides to respect the sanctity and the status quo of the holy site, and to refrain from any actions that could inflame the situation and jeopardize the prospects of peace. However, both Israel and Hamas have rejected any calls for a ceasefire without meeting their conditions.
Israel has demanded that Hamas stop firing rockets and disarm completely. Hamas has demanded that Israel end its blockade of Gaza and its occupation of East Jerusalem.