Israeli restrictions in Jerusalem keep Muslim prayers outdoors
Scores of Palestinian Muslims performed dawn prayers Friday outside the walls Old City of Jerusalem after Israeli police prevented them from entering the city to reach the Al-Aqsa Mosque, witnesses said, DPA reported.
Witnesses said police clashed with residents outside the Old City who attempted to reach Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam's holiest sites. Two people were reported hurt and required hospitalization.
The Israeli police cordoned off the Old City since late Thursday night restricting entry of Muslims to Al-Aqsa Mosque to males over 45 years of age. No ban was imposed on women.
Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said the restrictions were imposed in order to prevent possible disturbances breaking out after afternoon prayers, as Palestinians prepared to mark the event they call the nakba (catastrophe) - the May 15 anniversary of Israel's founding.
He said thousands of police were deployed in Jerusalem "to carry out security measures and prevent disturbances."
Police brought reinforcements to East Jerusalem since early Friday, sealing off all gates to the Old City and Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, allowing people to cross its barriers only after checking their identity papers.
Calls have been circulating on the social networking sites Facebook and Twitter for Palestinians to launch a new uprising to commemorate the nakba.
Based on these calls, the mass activities are supposed to start after the Friday prayers with marches in all cities around the world. On Saturday, calls have been made for sit-ins and protests outside United Nations offices, and United States and Israeli embassies.
Sunday is expected to be the highlight of these activities and calls have been made for protests in the West Bank and Jerusalem near Israeli military checkpoints and settlements, and on Arabs in states neighbouring Israel to march to the borders with Israel to call for right of return for refugees to their homes inside Israel.
Palestinian Authority security forces said Friday that they will not allow violent protests in the West Bank or protests near Israeli contact points. They said the public will be allowed to hold the usual annual rallies and the other non-violent activities in the city centers only.
In the Gaza Strip, where there is no Israeli presence, people are getting ready to hold the protests in the cities following the Friday prayers.
Officials in Gaza said a large Italian solidarity delegation arrived in Gaza Thursday to commemorate the Nakba anniversary with the local residents.
Gaza is also expecting to receive thousands of Egyptians who plan to reach it through Rafah crossing with Egypt on Sunday as part of the Nakba activities.