JERUSALEM, (AFP) – Israel deployed hundreds of extra police in mostly Arab east Jerusalem as Muslims flocked to the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound for the first Friday weekly prayers of the Ramadan holy month.
“We have deployed 2,000 police in order to deal with any eventuality,” Jerusalem police spokesman Shmulik Ben Ruby told AFP.
Entry to the compound was being limited to men over the age of 50 and women over the age of 45, as well as married men 45 to 50 years old and married women between the ages of 30 and 45, according to the Israeli military.
The steps were aimed at preventing violence, following several outbreaks of unrest over the past several months in which Palestinian demonstrators have hurled rocks at Israeli police, who fired tear gas and rubber bullets.
The police, however, said they did not expect any unrest on Friday.
Tens of thousands of Muslims were expected to attend prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque and the adjacent Dome of the Rock, the third holiest site in Islam after Saudi Arabia’s Mecca and Medina.
The esplanade is the holiest site in Judaism because it was the location of the Second Temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
Israel occupied east Jerusalem, including the Old City with sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, during the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed it in a move not recognised by the international community.
The Palestinians view east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, and the Al-Aqsa compound has frequently been a flashpoint in the Middle East conflict.
In 2000, a visit to the compound by Ariel Sharon, a right-wing politician who went on to become prime minister, sparked the so-called Al-Aqsa Intifada, a bloody Palestinian uprising which claimed thousands of lives.
During the lunar month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk and strive to be more pious and charitable.