Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque reopens after more than two months of COVID-19 lockdown

The Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem reopened to worshippers on Sunday after a two-and-a-half month closure as a result of coronavirus lockdown, but some restrictions were imposed by Muslim authorities as health officials warn of an upsurge in local infections.

The resumption of prayers at the third holiest site in Islam ends a dark time for the Muslims in Jerusalem, who this year observed the holy month of Ramadan fasting and the holiday of the Eid al-Fitri without their regular routine visits to Al-Aqsa and the adjacent Dome of the Rock.

The Islamic Waqf Council cited COVID-19 ‘s slow local spread in lifting entry restrictions and reopening the iconic shrines of the compound which shut down on March 15.

“God is the greatest” chanted by hundreds of Muslims as they packed into the compound for dawn prayers in Jerusalem’s walled Old City early on Sunday, a Reuters witness said.

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Some kneeled down and kissed the ground as they entered.

Although, as new cases in Israel have increased in recent days, Muslim authorities introduced several measures to minimize the risk of contagion.

Worshippers must wear face masks and bring personal prayer rugs if they wish to pray within the shrines or on the outdoor grounds of the compound, the council said in a statement.

The council did not say if the number of people allowed in the 35-acre compound, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount, would be limited.

There were about 700 worshippers on the compound for dawn prayers, the vast majority of whom wore face masks and carried rugs for prayer.

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Muslims claim the location is where Mohammad the prophet ascended to heaven.

This is revered by Jews as the location of the ancient Jewish temples.

There were 17,000 cases of coronavirus and 284 deaths in Israel, and 386 cases and 3 deaths in the occupied West Bank.

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