90,000 attend ‘first prayers’ of Ramadan at Aqsa mosque

JERUSALEM, Sept 5, (Agencies): Ninety thousand Muslims attended the first prayers of Ramadan at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday amid tight security, police said. The Israeli authorities deployed thousands of police but reported no incidents in the Holy City.

“Everything was calm,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP. He said, however, that a few dozen Palestinians hurled rocks at Israeli security forces who refused to let them through a checkpoint between the occupied West Bank to Jerusalem. No one was injured in the incident, Rosenfeld said.

Palestinians from the West Bank are generally not allowed to enter Israel or east Jerusalem, which was seized and annexed by the Jewish State in 1967. The defence ministry has eased the restrictions to allow Palestinians to pray in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound during the fasting month of Ramadan.

Married men over 50 and women over 45 have free access to the mosque compound, and those aged 30 to 45 can join them if they obtain a special permit issued by Israeli military authorities. The compound is known as Al-Haram Al-Sharif to Muslims and is Islam’s third holiest site after the Saudi cities of Mecca and Medina.

Jews refer to the same area as the Temple Mount, the location of the Second Jewish Temple razed by the Romans in 70 AD and Judaism’s holiest site. Israel beefed up its police deployments in Jerusalem as tens of thousands of Muslim faithful were expected to attend the first Friday prayers of Ramadan at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City.

“We have deployed thousands of police officers in readiness for any eventuality but have not received any specific warning about threats of violence,” said police spokesman Shmulik Ben Ruby.

Israel has eased restrictions for the duration of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan access to the mosque for Palestinians from the occupied West Bank.

Men over 50 and women over 45 have free access to the mosque compound, and those aged 30 to 45 can join them if they obtain a special permit issued by Israeli military authorities.

The compound is known as Al-Haram Al-Sharif to Muslims and is Islam’s third holiest site after Mecca and Medina. Jews refer to the same area as the Temple Mount, the location of the Second Jewish Temple razed by the Romans in 70 AD and Judaism’s holiest site.

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JERUSALEM: Some Arab neighbourhoods in Jerusalem could become the capital of a future Palestinian state as part of a final peace agreement, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said in an interview broadcast on Wednesday.

Barak did not say whether these neighbourhoods would include all of Arab East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in a move not recognised internationally. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of the state they hope to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“We can find a formula under which certain neighbourhoods, heavily-populated Arab neighbourhoods, could become, in a peace agreement, part of the Palestinian capital that, of course, will include also the neighbouring villages around Jerusalem,” Barak told al-Jazeera television. US-sponsored peace talks were launched last November by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with the goal of reaching an agreement in 2008.

But the negotiations have been marred by violence, as well as disputes over Jewish settlement building and Olmert’s insistence that the fate of Jerusalem be decided later.

“I’m not sure whether the gaps are close enough,” Barak said when asked if a deal was possible this year. The talks have been thrown into further doubt by Olmert’s announcement that he would step down as prime minister once his centrist Kadima party elects a new leader later this month.

Israel considers all of Jerusalem, including some surrounding areas in the occupied West Bank, to be its capital. Israel wants to hold onto several major Jewish settlement blocs.

Palestinians say these and other settlements will deny them a viable state. Olmert and some of his closest advisers have hinted in the past that Israel would consider turning over outlying Palestinian neighbourhoods of Jerusalem in a future deal. As prime minister in 2000, Barak presided over peace talks in Camp David that broke down amid violence.

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