Palestinians poured into Jerusalem from the occupied West Bank on Tuesday for a night of prayer at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, in a rare opportunity for many of them to visit the Muslim holy site, the third-holiest in Islam.
Police said that by early evening “tens of thousands” had arrived to mark Laylat al-Qadr, or Night of Destiny, when Muslims believe the first verses of the Koran were revealed to the Prophet Mohammed.
Mosque officials said they expected a total of 300,000 worshippers although it was not known how many would be from the West Bank, Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem or from Israel’s Arab minority.
West Bankers are usually only allowed into the city with special permits but on Tuesday, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said, men over the age of 40 or under 12 and all women were being allowed through the checkpoints around Jerusalem.
She told AFP that in the past the age limit for men had been 45 or 50 years but since the start the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, now nearing its end, the restriction had been relaxed for Friday prayers and for Laylat al-Qadr, “in light of security assessments.”
“Thousands of police have been deployed throughout the city to ensure public safety,” Samri said.