Muslim prayers at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound will resume next week after a nearly two-month pause now that the spread of the new coronavirus has slowed, a religious council said on Tuesday.
In a statement, the Council of Islamic Waqf said the restriction on outdoor prayer at the site would be lifted after the Muslim holiday of Eid El-Fitr marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan. Eid El-Fitr is due to start on Saturday or Sunday.
On March 15, religious officials closed al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, and a week later also banned worshippers from gathering in open areas of the holy hilltop compound, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount.
The endowment said that “in light of the relative decline of the spread of the virus” it would reopen the site to worshippers after the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which will begin this weekend and last for three days. “A mechanism and procedures regarding lifting the suspension” will be announced later, it added.
It was not immediately clear whether worshippers would also be allowed back into al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock next week. A Palestinian religious official in Jerusalem said further details would be released at a later date.
The raised esplanade is home to the Al-Aqsa mosque and the iconic golden Dome of the Rock. It is also the holiest site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it was the location of the first and second Jewish temples in antiquity.
The site has long been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and perceived encroachments by Israeli authorities and hard-line Jewish groups have ignited clashes on a number of occasions. Israel says it has no intention of changing the status quo at the site.
The site is in east Jerusalem, which Israeli seized in the 1967 war and later annexed in a move not recognized internationally. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority imposed sweeping lockdowns in mid-March aimed at containing the virus, limiting travel and public gatherings, and forcing nonessential businesses to close. Many of the restrictions have been lifted in recent weeks as the rate of new infections has declined.
Israel has reported more than 16,600 cases and around 270 deaths, with more than 13,000 of the patients having recovered. The Palestinian Authority has reported around 390 cases and two fatalities, with around 340 people having recovered.
The virus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most patients, who recover within a few weeks. But it is highly contagious and can cause severe illness or death, particularly in older patients or those with underlying conditions.