Al-Aqsa to reopen on May 31 with health restrictions

The mosque compound being disinfected. (AN photo)
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Updated 29 May 2020

Al-Aqsa to reopen on May 31 with health restrictions

  • In addition to physical separation, worshippers will be required to wear a face mask and gloves and to bring their own mats

AMMAN: Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque will reopen to worshippers from May 31 after being closed for more than two months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Islamic Waqf which oversees the city’s holy sites agreed to the resumption of prayers subject to the implementation of preventive measures aimed at stopping the spread of the deadly virus.

The mosque, the world’s third-holiest Islamic site, was shut in mid-March to all worshippers except for staff of the waqf.

Khalil Assali, a member of the Islamic Waqf, said that people attending Al-Aqsa Mosque would have to adhere to safety measures put in place by the Palestinian Ministry of Health, adding that the biggest worry for officials was the potential for overcrowding.

“We have instructed the waqf guards to take all precautions to avoid overcrowding, especially at the gates of the mosque.”

Large numbers of worshippers are expected at the mosque for Sunday dawn prayers. Wasfi Kailani, director of the Royal Hashemite Fund for the Restoration of Al-Aqsa, told Arab News that authorities in Jerusalem had made all the necessary preparations for the safe return of worshippers.

“The entire Aqsa compound was disinfected, and circles were drawn ensuring that worshippers are separated when they pray,” he said.

He added that local volunteers would help to oversee the smooth reopening of the mosque and ensure that physical separation and other health requirements were being adhered to.

Kailani pointed out that the giant compound housed numerous mosques, halls, and large plazas that could accommodate thousands of worshippers while still respecting social distancing rules.

Waqf guard Naser Abu Sharif, said the entire staff would be deployed in cooperation with volunteers and scouts to ensure COVID-19 preventive measures were followed, and said: “We are expecting thousands to attend the evening prayers on Sunday.”

Salah Zuhikah, a Jerusalem activist, told Arab News that people would accept the health regulations.

“The decision of the waqf council has been well-received and people are eager to return to Al-Aqsa while also following strict guidelines of the waqf officials and guards. People in Jerusalem have missed going to the mosque and are eager to return.”

In addition to physical separation, worshippers will be required to wear a face mask and gloves and to bring their own mats. To date, Palestine has recorded 435 cases of COVID-19 infection with three deaths.


New board of directors appointed to run Lebanon’s ‘corrupt’ state power company

Updated 53 min 23 sec ago

New board of directors appointed to run Lebanon’s ‘corrupt’ state power company

  • Regulation of electricity sector a key condition of international bailout for collapsing economy

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s government finally appointed a new board of directors on Tuesday to control the state-owned electricity company.
Electricite du Liban (EDL) has long been mired in allegations of corruption and fraud. Its annual losses of up to $2 billion a year are the biggest single drain on state finances as Lebanon faces economic collapse and the plunging value of its currency.
Reform of the electricity sector has been a key demand of the International Monetary Fund and potential donor states before they will consider a financial bailout.
“Lebanon’s electricity policy has been inefficient and ineffective for decades — always on the brink of collapse, but staying afloat with last minute patchwork solutions,” said Kareem Chehayeb of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy in Washington, DC.
“The economic crisis has made fuel imports more expensive, causing a shortage, with external generator providers hiking their prices or seeking business in Syria. It is a wake-up call to decades of overspending and poor planning of a basic public service.”
The World Bank has described the electricity sector in Lebanon as “tainted with corruption and waste,” and the IMF said “canceling the subsidy to electricity is the most important potential saving in spending.”
Electricity rationing was applied for the first time to hospitals and the law courts, but Minister of Energy Raymond Ghajar said: “The first vessel loaded with diesel for power plants has arrived, and as of Wednesday the power supply will improve.”
Prime Minister Hassan Diab promised the Lebanese people on Tuesday that they would see the results of government efforts to resolve the country’s financial chaos “in the coming weeks.”
Addressing a Cabinet meeting, Diab said: “The glimmer of hope is growing.” However, the appointment of an  EDF board of directors was criticized by opposition politicians. Former prime minister Najib Mikati said the appointments meant “the crime of wrong prevailing over right … is being repeated.”