It’s noon in Jerusalem and tensions are running high. There is a palpable sense of nervousness as the Holy City marks the first Friday since Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel and the subsequent Israeli strikes on Gaza.
Fridays can be a fraught time in Jerusalem, with protests and clashes often erupting in the Old City. Friday congregational prayers are a significant ritual for Muslims, who pray at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque.
It appears that Israeli police are restricting access to the compound. Access from the West Bank has been restricted and the police are being selective about who is let in.
The compound is significantly emptier than what is expected on Fridays, even as the prayers are about to start.
Many streets in Jerusalem remained deserted on Friday with a significant police and military presence visible across the city.
Some context: The al-Aqsa compound is one of the most revered places in Islam and Judaism. The sacred grounds, known to Muslims as Al Haram Al Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) and to Jews as Temple Mount have been a flashpoint of tensions between Israel and the Palestinians for decades.
Only Muslims are allowed to pray in the compound under a status quo arrangement originally reached more than a century ago. Non-Muslim visitors are allowed visits at certain times and only to certain areas of the complex.
But many in the Muslims world fear that the right to be the sole worshipers there has been eroded and that the sites themselves are being threatened by a growing far-right Jewish movement and Israel’s far-right government.
Clashes have frequently broken out at the site between Palestinian worshipers and Israeli forces. Police raided the compound several times over the last year.
In a statement, Hamas said it had launched Saturday’s “Al-Aqsa Storm” attack on Israel in part to defend the holy site.