Jerusalem holy site shuts down

The doors are bolted shut at the compound that hosts al-Aqsa mosque and Jerusalem’s iconic Dome of the Rock.

At midday on Monday, two Muslim worshippers unrolled their prayer mats at one of the closed entrances to the plaza, and prayed on cobbled steps outside.

The holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City is known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as Temple Mount, and is sacred to both religions.

Worshippers had been unable to enter the mosque itself for days, with prayer allowed only outside on the plaza as part of social distancing measures to counter coronavirus.

But on Sunday night the Waqf, the Islamic religious authority that administers the site, said Muslim worship would be suspended at all parts of the compound.

“We feel bitter at having to take this step but we were compelled to do so in order protect the lives and health of the public and to safeguard humanity, in compliance with the religious rulings in the Islamic world,” the council said.

Israeli media reported that entry by Jewish visitors to the contested site would also be halted.

The compound is frequently at the centre of Jerusalem’s crackling tensions and is administered according to a status quo agreement involving Israel, neighbouring Jordan and the Waqf.

Under normal circumstances, any changes concerning access to the site can be politically explosive but the region has witnessed broad acceptance so far of measures to contain the virus’ spread.

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