Al-Aqsa Mosque closed to Muslim worshippers to protect their lives

The Jerusalem-based Islamic Waqf Council has managed to close Al-Aqsa Mosque because of the coronavirus outbreak, amid fears that Jewish extremists would take advantage of the crisis.

Young man wearing a protective mask inside the al-Aqsa compound, 13 March 2020

reports in Al-Monitor:

The Jerusalem Islamic Waqf Council announced an unprecedented decision March 23 to temporarily deny Muslim worshippers access to Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest house of worship. The decision taken by the Waqf Council was a bitter one, according to a statement issued by the council, which is comprised of leading Jerusalemites and appointed by Jordan, the custodian of holy places in Jerusalem.

A senior official in Amman who asked not to be identified told Al-Monitor that earlier Israeli attempts to convince Jordan to unilaterally suspend prayers at the mosque failed when Israel tried to link the decision with the end of daily visits by Jewish groups.  “The idea of equating our decision with that of those who enter the mosque area through an alternative way is rejected by Jordan,” the source said. The alternative area is the Mughrabi Gate, which Israeli security alone controls. All other gates to the UNESCO world heritage site are manned by Jordanian Waqf guards along with a member of the Israeli police.

As part of their pressure tactics, Israeli police paid a visit March 21 to the house of the head of the Islamic Waqf Council, Sheikh Abdul Azim Salhab, and handed him a 5,000 shekel ($1,400) fine after the council allowed Friday prayers at the mosque the day before.

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The delay in making the decision to end Muslim prayers came as a leaflet by Jewish extremists who are advocating for Jewish takeover of the mosque area materialized. The Hebrew language leaflet states: “There are no Arabs on the Temple Mount. Al-Aqsa mosque is locked. The police are strictly implementing the Ministry of Health’s instructions, which allow assembling of no more than 10 people for religious purposes and is allowing Jews to ascend to the mount (think for yourselves on the implications). Days such as these create a new reality on the mount. This is the time to ascend to the mount. And as in days of King David to pray that the pandemic stops.”

There have been widespread concerns among Palestinians that these extremists will use this moment to take control of Al-Aqsa Mosque area, although no concrete attempts have been made.

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