Some 250 Palestinians from the besieged Gaza Strip traveled to occupied East Jerusalem on Friday to attend prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, according to Palestinian liaison officials.The officials told Ma’an that the worshipers, all above the age of 50, traveled to Jerusalem via the Erez crossing between the besieged enclave and Israel to attend prayers, and would immediately be returning to the Gaza Strip following the conclusion of Friday prayers.This Friday’s trip to Jerusalem came a week after Israeli authorities cancelled the permits of 150 elderly Palestinians in Gaza to attend Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa.
Muhammad al-Maqadmeh, head of the media department of Gaza’s civil affairs committee, told Ma’an at the time that Israeli authorities had informed them that the coordination of visitations for 150 Gazans to exit the besieged coastal enclave for Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa were cancelled.
Meanwhile, the 100 Palestinians whose visitations were coordinated with UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for providing services to some five million Palestinian refugees, maintained their permission to exit the Gaza Strip.
A spokesperson for COGAT, the Israeli agency responsible for implementing Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territory, told Ma’an last week that “many [Palestinians] have exploited these permits and have stayed illegally in Israel, and do not return to the Gaza Strip.”
“In spite of the agreements with the Palestinian side, Gaza residents have continued to exploit the permits and so it was decided to reduce the amount of permits given for travel to Jerusalem on this Friday. We will not allow for this abuse of Israel’s civil policy to continue,” the spokesperson added.
Earlier this year, Israeli authorities reduced the number of Palestinians permitted to worship at Al-Aqsa, as Israeli authorities had previously permitted 300 elderly Palestinians from the small Palestinian territory to travel to Al-Aqsa every Friday.
A spokesperson for the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Israeli agency responsible for implementing Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territory, told Ma’an at the time that Israeli authorities decided to reduce the quota of permits for Palestinians to travel to the Al-Aqsa Mosque for prayers as a result of Hamas and other groups “choosing to use the crossing permits given to them illegally.”
The spokesperson added that the decision would continue to be reviewed “in accordance with the conduct of the Palestinians and their choice to respect the agreements with Israel.”
Visitations of elderly Palestinians from Gaza were implemented as part of a ceasefire agreement that ended Israel’s 2014 offensive on the besieged enclave. However, due to Israeli security concerns and Jewish holidays, visits have been frequently interrupted since their introduction.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque, cherished as the third holiest site in Islam, is located in East Jerusalem, a part of the internationally recognized Palestinian territory which has been occupied by the Israeli army for almost 50 years.
It is also venerated as Judaism’s most holy place, as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, and some Jewish extremists have called for the destruction of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in order to build a Third Temple in its place.
The majority of the more than 1.8 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are sealed inside the coastal enclave due to a near-decade long military blockade imposed by Israel and upheld by Egypt on the southern border.