From Jeddah to Jerusalem, the faithful return to their mosques

Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound reopened on Sunday after a more than two-month lockdown aimed at containing the coronavirus crisis. (Supplied)
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Updated 01 June 2020

From Jeddah to Jerusalem, the faithful return to their mosques

  • Doors open again after virus lockdown
  • Internal flights resume from Saudi airports

JEDDAH/AMMAN: It began at dawn. As the first light appeared on the horizon and the call to Fajr prayer rang out, Muslims from Riyadh to Madinah and Jeddah to Jerusalem returned to their mosques on Sunday after a two-month break that for many was unbearable.

More than 90,000 mosques throughout Saudi Arabia were deep cleaned and sanitized in preparation for the end of the coronavirus lockdown. Worshippers wore face masks, kept a minimum of two meters apart, brought their own prayer mats and performed the ablution ritual at home.

“My feelings are indescribable. We are so happy. Thank God we are back in His house,” said Abdulrahman, 45, at Al-Rajhi mosque in Riyadh, where worshippers had their temperatures checked before entering.

Television screens inside the mosque displayed written instructions, including the need to maintain a safe distance from others to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In Jerusalem, at 3:30 a.m. thousands crowded outside three gates assigned to be opened to allow Muslims to enter Al-Aqsa Mosque. Young and old, men and women, many with their phone cameras on, chanted religious songs as they waited to return for the first time since the virus lockdown began.

“Those wishing to pray were checked for their temperature and those without a mask were given one by Waqf staff. All were asked to stay a safe distance from each other when they prayed,” Mazen Sinokrot, a member of the Islamic Waqf, told Arab News.

Wasfi Kailani executive director of the Hashemite Fund for the Restoration of Al-Aqsa Mosque told Arab News that enabling Muslims to pray in large numbers and according to health requirements had gone smoothly.

“People cooperated with the local Muslim authorities and followed the regulations.” The people of Jerusalem had shown a high degree of responsibility, he said.

Israeli police spokesman Miky Rosenfeld told Arab News that extra police units had been  mobilized in the old city of Jerusalem for the reopening of Al-Aqsa. 

“People arrived in the areas scheduled according to health and security guidelines,” he said.

Khaled Abu Arafeh, a former Minister for Jerusalem in the Ismael Haniyeh government in 2006, said people were happy to be able to pray once more at Islam’s third-holiest site.

“It is time to open a new page in cooperation with local institutions and with Jordan to regain all that has been lost over the years,” he told Arab News.

“The Waqf council has done a good job in dealing with the contradictions and pressures that they are under, which is like walking on a knife’s edge as they deal with the occupiers on the one hand and the health situation on the other, while also trying to be responsive to the desires of worshippers.”

Elsewhere in Saudi Arabia, commercial flights took to the air again, office staff returned to work and restaurants resumed serving diners as life began a gradual return to normal after the coronavirus lockdown.

Eleven of the Kingdom’s 28 airports opened on Sunday for the first time since March 21. “The progressive and gradual reopening aims at controlling the crowds inside airports because we want to achieve the highest health efficiency,” civil aviation spokesman Ibrahim bin Abdullah Alrwosa told Arab News.

No one without an e-ticket will be allowed into an airport, face masks must be worn and safe distancing observed, and children under 15 may not travel unaccompanied.

Lebanon’s Tripoli port readies to fill in for blast-hit Beirut

Updated 3 min 15 sec ago

Lebanon’s Tripoli port readies to fill in for blast-hit Beirut

  • The vast majority of Lebanon’s food and other imports used to transit through Beirut port
  • Lebanon relies on imports for 85 percent of its food needs

TRIPOLI: Lebanon’s northern port city of Tripoli is readying its harbor to temporarily replace that of Beirut, which was levelled in last week’s massive explosion, officials said Thursday.
Tripoli port’s capacity is smaller than the capital’s, through which the vast majority of Lebanon’s food and other imports used to transit.
A fire at Beirut port on August 4 caught a huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate, causing an explosion that devastated swathes of the city and killed at least 171 people.
Immediately after the disaster, Lebanon’s Supreme Defense Council ordered that the port of Tripoli be prepped for “import and export operations.”
“The port of Tripoli can stand in for Beirut on a temporary basis, for the time it will take it to be operational again,” Tripoli port director Ahmad Tamer told AFP.
The smaller ports of Saida and Tyre can also contribute to the effort but their capacity is limited and does not allow for bigger vessels to dock.
Lebanon relies on imports for 85 percent of its food needs and the UN’s World Food Programme has warned that the destruction of the main port could worsen an already alarming situation.
Lebanon’s economic collapse in recent months has seen it default on its debt, sent the local currency into free-fall and poverty rates soaring to near third world levels, all amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tamer said seven ships that were on their way to Beirut on the day of the gigantic explosion immediately rerouted to Tripoli, where they unloaded their cargo.
Tripoli had already undergone major upgrade works in order to accomodate increased traffic expected in connection with the reconstruction effort needed in neighboring, war-ravaged Syria.
Tamer said that before the explosion Tripoli port was only functioning at 40 percent capacity, processing two million tons of imports per year, with a capacity to absorb a maximum of five million tons.
The port director said that he wanted to launch a plan to increase work at the port and hire more employees in order to process more than its current rate of 80,000 containers a year.