Al-Aqsa to reopen on May 31 with health restrictions

(170603) — JERUSALEM, June 3, 2017 (Xinhua) — Muslim worshippers attend the first Friday prayer of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan outside the Dome of the Rock at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound on June 2, 2017. (Xinhua/Guo Yu) (zjy)

DUBAI (RAHNUMA): Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque will reopen to worshippers from May 31 after being closed for more than two months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Islamic Waqf which oversees the city’s holy sites agreed to the resumption of prayers subject to the implementation of preventive measures aimed at stopping the spread of the deadly virus.

The mosque, the world’s third-holiest Islamic site, was shut in mid-March to all worshippers except for staff of the waqf.

Khalil Assali, a member of the Islamic Waqf, said that people attending Al-Aqsa Mosque would have to adhere to safety measures put in place by the Palestinian Ministry of Health, adding that the biggest worry for officials was the potential for overcrowding.

“We have instructed the waqf guards to take all precautions to avoid overcrowding, especially at the gates of the mosque.”

Large numbers of worshippers are expected at the mosque for Sunday dawn prayers. Wasfi Kailani, director of the Royal Hashemite Fund for the Restoration of Al-Aqsa, told Arab News that authorities in Jerusalem had made all the necessary preparations for the safe return of worshippers.

“The entire Aqsa compound was disinfected, and circles were drawn ensuring that worshippers are separated when they pray,” he said.

He added that local volunteers would help to oversee the smooth reopening of the mosque and ensure that physical separation and other health requirements were being adhered to.

Kailani pointed out that the giant compound housed numerous mosques, halls, and large plazas that could accommodate thousands of worshippers while still respecting social distancing rules.

Waqf guard Naser Abu Sharif, said the entire staff would be deployed in cooperation with volunteers and scouts to ensure COVID-19 preventive measures were followed, and said: “We are expecting thousands to attend the evening prayers on Sunday.”

Salah Zuhikah, a Jerusalem activist, told Arab News that people would accept the health regulations.

“The decision of the waqf council has been well-received and people are eager to return to Al-Aqsa while also following strict guidelines of the waqf officials and guards. People in Jerusalem have missed going to the mosque and are eager to return.”

In addition to physical separation, worshippers will be required to wear a face mask and gloves and to bring their own mats. To date, Palestine has recorded 435 cases of COVID-19 infection with three deaths.

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