AMMAN: Palestinian Muslims have defied coronavirus control measures by holding regular public prayers in the outdoor area of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
Prayers were held with worshippers keeping a safe distance from each other after worshippers rejected Israeli attempts to have Islamic waqf authorities close the mosque.
On Saturday, Israeli police visited the home of Sheik Abdel Azim Salhab, head of the Islamic Waqf Council, and issued a $1,430 fine because of the waqf’s decision to keep the mosque open.
However, waqf legal advisers say that the fine is illegal since the Israeli government has excluded religious institutions from closure orders and is permitting prayers at holy places if no more than 10 people take part.
The dispute over the Friday prayers coincides with visits by Jewish groups to the mosque area.
A leaflet distributed by Jewish campaigners told supporters: “Days such as these create a new reality on the Mount. This is the time to ascend to the Mount.” A source in the Jerusalem
waqf told Arab News that Israeli police on Sunday closed the Mughrabi Gate, which Jewish groups enter under Israeli police protection.
“After two rounds of visits by the Jewish groups, they informed us that the gate will be closed and asked us to also close the mosque’s other gates.”
However, a meeting of the waqf council on Sunday night decided to suspend public prayers at the mosque.
Mahdi Abdul Hadi, a member of the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, told Arab News that the council will suspend prayers in Al-Aqsa mosque, while maintaining the call to prayer and ensuring guards and waqf employees continue their roles.
“Waqf guards will continue to be Al-Aqsa’s protectors,” he said.
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told Arab News that health and safety measures are being stepped up in all neighborhoods, including the old city.
“With the spread of coronavirus, it is critical to avoid public gatherings and keep a safe distance from one another,” he added.
Ahmad Budeiri, coordinator of the Jerusalem Alliance Confronting Coronavirus, said that the top priority is to ensure people stay at home while quarantine locations are found.
“Based on medical orders, we need everyone to stay at home, and we need to find a hotel where we can make sure people can be quarantined,” he said.
Buderi said that several hotels are available, but it is unclear who will pay the cost of upkeep, food and medical support.
“We can’t take care of such a high bill on our own, so we need Jordan, the Palestinian government or others to help us with the high cost for quarantine,” he said.
According to the World Health Organization, 59 people have tested positive for coronavirus in occupied Palestinian territory, including 57 in West Bank and two in Gaza. The Ministry of Health said that 17 people have recovered from the illness.
Palestinians have also voiced concern about the spread of the virus in Israeli jails, especially Megiddo Prison.