A member of the Israeli security forces checks identity cards as worshippers wait at a checkpoint near Lion's Gate to enter the Al Aqsa Mosque compound before the Friday noon prayer, in Jerusalem on February 16, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that he had made a “balanced decision” to allow freedom of worship at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan, but that access would be limited according to security needs.

Asked about the possibility of blocking access for Israeli Muslims to Al Aqsa, a flashpoint prayer site in Jerusalem’s Old City, Netanyahu’s office said: “The prime minister made a balanced decision to allow freedom of worship within the security needs determined by professionals.” It gave no details.

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Israel often sets limits on which worshippers can reach the prayer site — for example based on age — in order to avoid violence from erupting at the site, which is part of a compound also holy in Judaism.

“Despite warnings from the Shin Bet (internal security agency) of potential disturbances between Palestinians inside Israel and the Israeli police, Netanyahu agreed to a recommendation from Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir to limit the access of Palestinian faithful to the Al Aqsa Mosque during the upcoming month of Ramadan,” Channel 13 reported.

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The Netanyahu administration will make an official decision on this issue in the coming days, the broadcaster claimed.

“The entry of Palestinian faithful to the Al Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan will be limited,” the channel reported, citing unidentified sources.

Several Israeli media outlets, including Channel 12, have reported in the last two days that the Shin Bet warned the government that prohibiting Palestinians from entering the Al Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan “could lead to major disturbances.”

The security agency warned that this decision could cause more “dangerous” disruption than the eruption of tensions in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and surrounding territories in 1948 when the State of Israel was declared.

Since the beginning of the war in the Gaza Strip, Israeli police have restricted Palestinian Muslims’ access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, particularly on Fridays.

Last Friday, despite Israeli restrictions, approximately 25,000 Palestinian faithful were able to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem to perform Friday prayers for the first time since the war.