Muslims forced to perform Friday prayers outside Al-Aqsa

Thousands of Palestinian worshippers were forced to perform Friday prayers outside the Aqsa Mosque compound due to stepped-up security measures by Israel, according to a statement issued by the Aqsa Institute.

"Thousands of Palestinians converged on Al-Aqsa Mosque for Friday prayers… but had to perform prayers outside the mosque compound's entrances and in the streets of Al-Quds [occupied Jerusalem] after being blocked [by Israeli security forces]," the statement read.

Thousands of Israeli policemen, meanwhile, remain deployed around the mosque compound and Jerusalem's Old City, an Anadolu Agency correspondent reported from the scene.

Director of Al-Quds Endowments and Al-Aqsa Affairs Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib slammed the stepped-up security measures by Israel, which prevented thousands of Muslim worshippers from performing Friday prayers at the iconic mosque.

Israeli occupation forces, he said, had turned the holy site into "a military garrison."

Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samr said police would close off a number of roads in Jerusalem for the celebration of Yom Kippur, or "Day of Atonement," the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.

"Arrangements have been made to block some roads across Jerusalem from 4pm until 10pm local time on Saturday for Yom Kippur," Samr told AA.

According to Al-Khatib, Israeli police had restricted access to the Old City and the Aqsa Mosque.

Israeli police set up four checkpoints to check worshippers' IDs and prevented a number of them from entering the site, he said.

Under normal circumstances, some 20,000 to 25,000 Muslim worshippers flock to the mosque each week for Friday prayers, but only 4,000 were allowed to enter the site today, said Al-Khatib.

Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third holiest site, has recently been the target of repeated violations by extremist Jewish settlers, angering Palestinian Muslims who believe their right to worship is being violated.

On Wednesday, Israeli Housing Minister Uri Ariel entered the mosque compound in the company of several policemen and bodyguards, according to a statement from the Aqsa Institute.

One day later, scores of Jewish settlers backed by Israeli security forces stormed the compound and performed Jewish prayers at the religious site.

Addressing worshippers in today's sermon, Sheikh Ekrima Sabri slammed the Israeli violations.

"The [Israeli] occupation believes that now is the right time to target Al-Aqsa, given that all the Arab nations are currently preoccupied with internal crises," he said.

Jews refer to Al-Aqsa as the "Temple Mount," claiming the area had been the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times.

Jewish extremists believe their messiah will not arrive until a third Jewish temple is built on the site.

Jewish groups have asked the Israeli authorities to open the Aqsa compound to Jews on Saturday to commemorate Yom Kippur.

The Knesset (Israel's parliament) had earlier called for opening the compound to Jews on all Jewish holidays, according to the Aqsa Institute.

Source: World Bulletin

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