Thursday, April 25

Israel rejects new restrictions on Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan

The Israeli government has decided not to impose new restrictions on access to a major Jerusalem mosque during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a move that could ease tensions at a site that has long been a hotbed of unrest.

At a meeting Tuesday evening led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, security officials decided to let a similar number of worshipers enter the Aqsa Mosque compound during Ramadan as they had in previous years , Mr. Netanyahu’s office said. Ramadan, the start of which is linked to the sighting of the crescent moon, is expected to begin in a few days.

Israel has long restricted access to the compound, sacred to Muslims and Jews alike, during Ramadan for Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. This year, Itamar Ben-Gvir, the far-right national security minister, called on the government to also impose limits on Israel’s Arab citizens.

Tuesday’s decision ended the plan promoted by Mr. Ben-Gvir, but it left some room for maneuver. “A weekly assessment of safety and security aspects will take place; a decision will be taken accordingly,” said a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

The mosque grounds have regularly been the scene of violent clashes. Clashes at the site in May 2021 contributed to the outbreak of an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas.

As Ramadan approaches, as the war between Israel and Hamas enters its sixth month, fears of an escalation at the site have intensified. On Tuesday, President Joe Biden said that if a ceasefire agreement was not reached by Ramadan, “it would be very dangerous.”

Mansour Abbas, an Arab Israeli member of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, welcomed the decision. “I congratulate the Prime Minister for the responsible decision to grant freedom of worship to Muslim worshipers at Al Aqsa Mosque,” ​​he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Ben-Gvir, however, expressed concern that the move could undermine Israel’s efforts to destroy the militant group Hamas, which attacked Israel on October 7. “Hamas celebrations on the Temple Mount ≠ complete victory,” he wrote on X, using the Jewish name for Al Aqsa.

Hamas previously condemned any Israeli restrictions on worship at Al Aqsa. On Monday, a Hamas leader called on Palestinians to turn the mosque into a site of confrontation.

Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Jerusalem should “turn every moment of Ramadan into a clash and confrontation with the enemy to protect Al Aqsa,” Osama Hamdan, a Beirut-based Hamas leader, said by video during a conference of Muslim academics.

In Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven from the site of Al Aqsa, and tens of thousands of Muslims visit the mosque every day during Ramadan. For Jews, the area is revered as the Temple Mount because it was the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times that remain central to Jewish identity.

Matthew Mpoke Bigg reports contributed.