The courtyards surrounding East Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque on Thursday – the first day of the three-day Eid al-Adha – were packed with Muslim worshippers performing Eid prayers.
Thousands of Muslims gathered in and around the Al-Aqsa only one week after entry into the iconic mosque complex was restricted by the Israeli authorities amid violent clashes between Palestinian Muslim worshippers and Jewish settlers backed by Israeli security forces.
For the three-day Eid al-Adha, however, the Israeli authorities have eased restrictions on entry into Jerusalem for those coming from the occupied West Bank, allowing married Palestinian men over 45 and women over 30 to visit the mosque.
Many of those who came to Jerusalem to mark the first day of the Eid on Thursday were East African Muslims who work in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv.
One of these, Shaaban Omar, 35, said it was his fifth time to visit Al-Aqsa.
“I’m very happy when I come here,” Omar, who originally hails from Eritrea, told Anadolu Agency. “I want to take pictures [of the iconic mosque]; I want to see all these worshippers.”
Omar, along with thousands of others, thronged around the steps leading up to the famous Dome of the Rock, where groups of worshippers snapped photographs of the mosque, considered by Muslims the world’s third holiest site after Makkah and Medina.
Ammashe Haya, a 63-year-old Palestinian resident of Jerusalem, was one of those who came to the mosque with her family to mark the first day of Eid.
“I can’t even describe it. I’m very happy. I wish this many people could come here every week,” she said.
Haya went on to complain about the Israeli restrictions on entry, which were imposed last week after extremist Jewish settlers – backed by Israeli security forces – forced their way into the flashpoint mosque complex on three consecutive days.
“Today is different; many people have been allowed inside [the mosque compound],” she said. “Usually, though, you will only see ten or 20 worshippers here because they [the Israeli authorities] don’t let us in.”
She added: “They [the police] take our identity cards at the entrance… It’s difficult for someone my age; sometimes they beat us or make us go to the police station to pick up our identity cards.”
Following Thursday’s Eid prayers, small pockets of protesters gathered in the courtyards where they chanted “Free Al-Aqsa!”
Some of the protesters waved the flags of the countries from which they came, including Turkey, Algeria, Iraq, and other Muslim countries.
During the Eid al-Adha, Muslims traditionally perform a ritual sacrifice, usually a sheep, goat or cow. Due to frequent Israeli restrictions in Jerusalem, however, residents must often travel to the West Bank for the slaughter.
Images by Anadolu Agency.