Palestinians clash with IDF soldiers over access to Jerusalem prayers

Muslims demanding entry to Jerusalem to pray at the al-Aqsa mosque on last Friday of Ramadan, but only older men and women are permitted entry.

Palestinians prevented by the IDF from attending Friday prayers in Jerusalem clashed with soldiers at the Qalandia checkpoint, north of Jerusalem, witnesses and an IDF spokesperson said.

Thousands of West Bank Palestinians over 50 years of age and younger women were allowed through the checkpoint to attend the last Friday prayers of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites, in Jerusalem’s Old City.

But the IDF prevented the entry of younger male West Bank residents, prompting them to hold prayers at the checkpoint and later clash with the soldiers after pushing and shoving to cross the checkpoint into Jerusalem.

The protesters quickly dispersed after soldiers fired tear gas and stun grenades in their direction, causing several to suffer from gas inhalation.

Authorities had feared disturbances following Friday prayers, given the tensions on the Gaza border in the past week, which saw the IAF conduct a series of air raids on the Gaza Strip and militants in the Gaza launch around 170 rockets at Israel, resulting in deaths on both sides.

Palestinian, Israeli and international activists participated in the protest at Qalandia checkpoint demanding freedom of access for Muslims of all ages to Al-Aqsa Mosque for the Friday prayers.

Under the slogan “Knocking on Jerusalem Doors,” the protesters hoisted Palestinian flags and signs calling on Israel to end its strict control over Jerusalem and to open it up to all Palestinians.

Israeli activist Jonathan Pollak told the German Press Agency DPA that the protest intended to “challenge the claim that Israel has the right to deny people access to Jerusalem.”

He claimed there was just a “slim chance” that Israel would ever again allow free access for West Bank residents to Jerusalem for prayer at its Muslim or Christian holy sites, and that their protest was intended to challenge that.

Muslim officials at al-Aqsa Mosque estimated the number of worshippers at over 250,000, way short of the normal figure of half a million who normally attend the last Friday of Ramadan worship there.

While security forces beefed up its presence in the city and around the mosque, the prayers ended without incident.

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