Latest News 15-03-2024 12:31 26 Views

Israeli police prepare for first Friday of Ramadan amid online incitement, calls for violence

JERUSALEM – Despite heightened security concerns in and around Jerusalem due to the ongoing war in Gaza, Israeli officials said this week that there would be no additional restrictions to freedom of worship for Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan. However, they warned, of an increase in incitement online, along with fake news reports, contradicting what is really happening on the ground.

‘Most of the people coming to pray, want to come and pray quietly,’ Mirit Ben Mayor, head of communications in the Israel Police told reporters in a briefing this week. 

However, she added, there was always a small number of people – usually youngsters – trying to destabilize the area and ‘get our attention.’ Ben Mayor emphasized that like in previous years – and during all other religious holidays in the holy city – the Israeli police was beefing up its forces to maintain order and reduce the chances of terror. 

Tal Heinrich, a spokeswoman for the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, told Fox News Digital that Israel was a nation ‘that takes great pride in welcoming all faiths and protects freedom of religion and worship.’ 

She said it was important to note ‘that the only time, in hundreds of years, when there has been freedom of religion and access to holy sites across our lands has been since 1948 – with the establishment of the State of Israel.’

‘In the coming weeks we’ll see three celebrations of the world’s major religions when Muslims mark Ramadan, Christians celebrate Easter and the holiday of Purim celebrated by the Jews,’ Heinrich said.

The holy month of Ramadan, where Muslims are required to fast from dawn till dusk and attend additional prayer services, traditionally draws hundreds of thousands of worshippers to the Old City of Jerusalem, the location of the al-Aqsa Mosque – Islam’s third-holiest site. 

The sensitive site, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, or holy sanctuary, and which also contains the Dome of the Rock, sits on top of an area Jews refer to as the Temple Mount – a raised esplanade where the first and second Jewish temples once stood. It is considered the holiest site for Jews. 

Every year on Ramadan, tensions in Jerusalem reach their peak and police officers flood the 0.35-square-mile Old City in order to maintain calm. Restrictions are placed on certain individuals who are deemed a security risk by Israel and some are prevented from entering the holy compound out of a fear they will launch violent attacks against Jews, who continue to pray at the Western Wall just below it. 

The war in Gaza, which was sparked by Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attack in which 1,200 people were brutally killed and a further 240 taken hostages, has served to only increase tensions – as have efforts by radical Jewish groups who are pushing Israeli authorities to increase their access to the sacred compound.

‘As we do every year, the Israeli police have made a lot of arrangements and are very ready to enable this holiday and to enable our Muslim friends to practice freedom of religion on their holiday,’ Ben Mayor said. 

‘Hundreds of police officers are right now spread over in the Old City in order to enable the thousands of worshipers to safely arrive at the compound and practice the prayers,’ she said, adding that the level of readiness was even higher for Friday prayers and describing the police’s role as ensuring freedom of worship for all religions that view Jerusalem as holy. 

‘During this month of a Muslim holiday, there are also holidays of the Jewish people and of Christians and in this respect, we are preparing ourselves to enable the practice of these holidays to take place as well,’ Ben Mayor said. 

According to official Israeli sources, there are currently no restrictions on Israel’s Muslim population who want to enter the al-Aqsa compound, although for Palestinians – who must cross through a checkpoint from the West Bank into Jerusalem – only men over 55, women over 50 and boys below the age of 10 are permitted. 

Heinrich, from the prime minister’s office, said hundreds of thousands of Muslims were expected to arrive in Jerusalem’s Old City for Ramadan’s Friday prayer service and that while the ‘overwhelming majority will come to pray and to practice holiday traditions peacefully,’ there were attempts by terror organizations such as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad to ‘inflame the region.’  

‘They’ve already called for attacks on Israelis and Jews during Ramadan, and they already have plans to attack us,’ she said, pointing out that over the past week, Israeli forces had succeeded in preventing a suicide bombing.

The Israeli police spokeswoman also commented on the sharp increase in incitement online and the fake news reports shared in the Arabic language media since Oct. 7.

‘It’s a part of what we believe Hamas is doing in order to broaden the war and draw in Israeli Arabs and others who are not taking any part in this war,’ she said. ‘They are working tirelessly to incite, and we are working tirelessly to find these people who are inciting.’ 

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