US urges Israel to let Muslims worship at Al-Aqsa during Ramadan

AFP , Wednesday 28 Feb 2024

The United States on Wednesday urged Israel to allow Muslims to worship at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem during Ramadan, after a far-right minister proposed barring Palestinians from the occupied West Bank from praying there.

Aqsa compound
Palestinian Muslims perform the Friday Noon prayer on a street in east Jerusalem on February 23, 2024, as age restrictions have been imposed to access the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, amid the Israeli war on Gaza. AFP


"As it pertains to Al-Aqsa, we continue to urge Israel to facilitate access to Temple Mount for peaceful worshippers during Ramadan consistent with past practice," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters, using the Jewish term for the site, known to Muslims as Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

"That's not just the right thing to do, it's not just a matter of granting people religious freedom that they deserve and to which they have a right, but it's also a matter that directly is important to Israel's security," he said.

"It is not in Israel's security interest to inflame tensions in the West Bank or in the broader region."

Al-Aqsa mosque is the third-holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina and holds significant religious and historical importance for Muslims around the world. Al-Aqsa is the name given to the whole compound which also houses the Dome of the Rock mosque.

Israel has been assessing how to address worship in Jerusalem during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month that will start on March 10 or 11, depending on the lunar calendar.

The month of fasting comes as Israel wages a brutal war on the Gaza Strip that has killed nearly 30,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry.

Hamas has called for a mass movement on Al-Aqsa for the start of Ramadan.

"We call on our people in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the occupied interior (Israel) to travel to Al-Aqsa from the first day of the blessed month of Ramadan, in groups or alone, to pray there to break the siege on it," Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said in a televised statement Wednesday.

Last week, Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said that Palestinian residents of the West Bank "should not be allowed" entry to Jerusalem to pray during Ramadan.

Ben Gvir leads a hard-right party advocating Jewish control of the compound.

Egypt, Qatar, and the US have been pressing for a ceasefire deal before Ramadan begins in which Israel would halt strikes in the Gaza Strip and Israeli captives taken on October 7 would be exchanged for Palestinian prisoners.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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