A volunteer sprays hand sanitizer for a Palestinian man on his way   to perform Friday prayers in the nearly deserted Al-Aqsa mosque   compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, March 20 2020
A masked volunteer sprays hand sanitizer for a Palestinian man on his way to Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, March 20, 2020
Photo: AFP
Palestinians perform Friday prayers at the near-deserted  Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, March 20, 2020

Smaller crowds at Jerusalem Friday prayers amid coronavirus lockdown

Worshipers scuffle with Israeli police enforcing restrictions on numbers praying at Temple Mount; Al-Aqsa Mosque and adjacent Dome of the Rock closed by Muslim authorities last week as part of measures to stem spread of virus

Reuters |
Published: 03.20.20 , 17:14
Palestinian worshippers scuffled with Israeli police in East Jerusalem on Friday as crowds headed to Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount to pray, amid a partial lockdown imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
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  • Police in riot gear and wearing face masks put barricades up outside Damascus Gate and other entrances to the Old City ahead of Friday noon prayers, and checked identity papers to limit the numbers attending.

    Palestinians perform their Friday prayers in the almost deserted   Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, after the   mosques were shut in a bid to stem the spread of coronavirus,   March 20, 2020 Palestinians perform their Friday prayers in the almost deserted   Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, after the   mosques were shut in a bid to stem the spread of coronavirus,   March 20, 2020
    Palestinians perform Friday prayers at the near-deserted Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, March 20, 2020
    (Photo: AFP)
    The crowds were much lower than usual, witnesses said, with only a few hundred in attendance. Some who were refused access prayed in the rain-sodden streets outside the walls, and there were light scuffles as police used tear gas and horses to disperse a crowd.
    Al-Aqsa Mosque and the adjacent Dome of the Rock were closed by Muslim authorities last week, in a move to protect worshippers at Islam's third holiest site.
    But the clerics permitted prayers on the huge open area around the two shrines, which sit atop the sacred compound known to Muslims worldwide as al-Haram al-Sharif, or The Noble Sanctuary, and to Jews as Har HaBayit, or Temple Mount.

    Muslims gather to perform Friday prayers in front of the closed   doors of Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem's Old City, after the mosque   and Dome of the Rock were shut, March 20, 2020 Muslims gather to perform Friday prayers in front of the closed   doors of Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem's Old City, after the mosque   and Dome of the Rock were shut, March 20, 2020
    Muslims gather to perform Friday prayers in front of the closed doors of Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, March 20, 2020
    (Photo: AFP)
    However on Thursday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tightened a national stay-at-home policy, saying police would enforce restrictions. The guidelines said that no more than 10 people should gather in one place.
    Superintendent Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesman, said health measures were being taken in all neighborhoods, including the Old City.
    "With the ongoing spread of the coronavirus it is critical not to have public gatherings and absolutely necessary to keep at a distance of at least 2 metres from one another," he said.
    The government has threatened to impose lockdown orders unless people observed the instructions - pointing a finger at Israel's Arab minority and ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.
    A volunteer sprays hand sanitizer for a Palestinian man on his way   to perform Friday prayers in the nearly deserted Al-Aqsa mosque   compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, March 20 2020 A volunteer sprays hand sanitizer for a Palestinian man on his way   to perform Friday prayers in the nearly deserted Al-Aqsa mosque   compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, March 20 2020
    A volunteer sprays hand sanitizer for a Palestinian man on his way to Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, March 20, 2020
    (Photo: AFP)
    The Chief Rabbinate said earlier this month that Jewish worshippers should not come to the Western Wall or gather en masse there.
    Some turned up to pray on Friday, but the area was much quieter than usual, like much of the city center that is normally crowded with tourists.
    The Health Ministry says 705 people in Israel have tested positive for coronavirus. Of them, 10 are in serious condition.
    Palestinian officials say there have been 48 cases detected in the West Bank, 17 of whom have recovered.
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