Israel Deploys 3,000 Police in Jerusalem for First Ramadan Friday Prayers
Three thousand Israeli police were deployed in east Jerusalem Friday to deal with potential unrest as the first weekly prayers of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began, police said.
The compound is the third holiest site in the Islamic world, and thousands of men, women and children began pouring in Friday to begin prayers. Despite the flow, the situation was calm at midday, an AFP correspondent at the scene said.
Friday has been a standing "day of rage" since a Palestinian uprising against Israel broke out in late September, and Israeli authorities fear greater unrest now that Ramadan has begun.
For the first time in several weeks, Israeli authorities lifted age restrictions on worshippers permitted into a sacred site in east Jerusalem which houses two mosques, the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
Earlier this week, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's political faction Fateh called for a surge in the Intifada, or uprising, during Ramadan, and the militant Islamic group Hamas said Muslims should wage a jihad (holy war) for the sake of Jerusalem.
Both groups, which are supported by the majority of Palestinians, called on the masses to visit the compound that houses the mosques.
Access to the site was permitted only to Arab Israelis and to Palestinians living in Jerusalem. Palestinians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will not be able to worship here because Israel slapped a blockade on the territories at the start of the Intifada or uprising.
At varying times, only people older than 35, 40 or 45 have been allowed in for Friday prayers as a way to keep younger, potentially more volatile worshippers away from the area.
Clashes broke out at the al-Aqsa compound on September 28, when Israel's hawkish opposition leader Ariel Sharon made a provocative visit to the compound, which is supported by the Wailing Wall, the holiest site in Judaism.
Palestinians reacted with anger at the visit, throwing stones and rioting. The following day, Israeli troops cracked down with gunfire, killing seven Palestinians.
Some 295 people, mostly Palestinians, have been killed in the raging violence that has gutted the peace process since then -- JERUSALEM (AFP)
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