Worshippers’ access to Al-Aqsa in Ramadan as in previous years: Israel

Members of the Israeli security forces stand guard as Muslim worshippers pass through a checkpoint near Lion's Gate in Jerusalem, to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound for the Friday noon prayer, on 1 March 2024 amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas.AFP

Israel will allow as many Muslim worshippers to access Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem during the first week of Ramadan as in previous years, the prime minister's office said Tuesday.

"In the first week of Ramadan, worshippers will be allowed to enter the Temple Mount, in similar numbers to those in previous years," the statement said, using the Jewish term for the site.

"Every week there will be a situation assessment in terms of security and safety and a decision will be made accordingly," it added.

Every year, tens of thousands of Muslim worshippers perform Ramadan prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque.

Ramadan comes this year as Israel wages a relentless military campaign in the Gaza Strip in response to a deadly attack by Hamas in Israel on 7 October.

Israel has been assessing how to address worship in Jerusalem during Ramadan, the Islamic fasting month due to start on 10 or 11 March, depending on the lunar calendar.

Israel's far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir had recently said that Palestinian residents of the West Bank "should not be allowed" entry to Jerusalem to pray during Ramadan.

"We cannot take risks," he said, adding: "We cannot have women and children hostage in Gaza and allow celebrations for Hamas on the Temple Mount."

Ben Gvir leads a hard-right party advocating Jewish control of the compound.

Days later, the United States called on Israel to allow Muslims to worship at Al-Aqsa.

"It's not just a matter of granting people religious freedom that they deserve... it's also a matter that directly is important to Israel's security," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

"It is not in Israel's security interest to inflame tensions in the West Bank or in the broader region."

Hamas has called for a mass movement on Al-Aqsa for the start of Ramadan.

"Ramadan is sacred to Muslims; its sanctity will be upheld this year, as it is every year," the Israeli government statement said after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a meeting of all security agencies on Tuesday.