CAIRO: The authority overseeing Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound has decided not to close the site amid a spike in COVID-19 cases.
The Islamic Endowments Department initially decided to “suspend the entry of worshippers starting from Friday afternoon” for three weeks” given that the coronavirus was spreading in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
But the authority said the decision was taken to keep Islam’s third holiest open after it realized Israel would allow settlers to storm the mosque if it were closed.
“We decided to keep the doors of the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque open,” the statement said.
It said the mosque would remain open and prayers held as normal.
The authority said the decision to suspend worshippers from entering Al-Aqsa depended on Israel not allowing hardliners to storm it.
The statement comes amid a three-week lockdown to be imposed by Israel, which controls the entrances of the compound.
Jordan is the custodian of the compound, known by Muslims as the Haram Al-Sharif, or Holy Sanctuary, and as the Temple Mount by Jews.
It is only the second time that the Islamic Endowments Department has decided to close the compound since Israel occupied east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967.
Israel has previously blocked access to the site, which is a focus of Palestinian aspirations for statehood.
The compound was closed at the onset of the pandemic in March, when sweeping closures upended religious life in a way not seen for centuries.
Israeli authorities have reported nearly 167,000 coronavirus cases, with 1,147 deaths.
In the occupied West Bank some 214 people have died from the virus and more than 30,200 cases have been registered by Palestinian authorities.