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More than 200,000 at Al Aqsa Mosque for Ramadan prayers

January 31, 1997

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Hundreds of thousands of Muslims prayed at the Al Aqsa Mosque under heavy Israeli security today to mark the fourth Friday of Ramadan. Their prayer leader accused Israel of harassing Palestinians in Jerusalem.

Some 3,000 Israeli police and border forces patrolled in and around the walled Old City where the mosque and other Muslim shrines are located. Police closed downtown streets to cars and stopped many Palestinian pedestrians for identity checks.

Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, is a time of increased religious fervor for Muslims and Israel is concerned about possible attacks by Islamic militants.

For Friday prayers during Ramadan, Israeli troops eased their longstanding restrictions barring most Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip from entering Israel. Palestinians over the age of 30 were let through army checkpoints ringing Jerusalem.

Abdallah Harb, an Islamic court judge from the West Bank town of Ramallah, said he was turned away by troops on the outskirts of Jerusalem because he is 29. Harb, dressed in a white robe and prayer cap, said he found a back road and entered the city anyway.

The Al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques sit on a raised platform known to Muslims as Haram as-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, and to Jews as the Temple Mount. The mosques were built on the remains of the Jewish Temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

More than 200,000 worshipers today knelt in neat rows, filling the mosques and courtyards of the 11-acre compound. A police helicopter hovered above.

Their prayer leader, Yousef Abu Sneineh, accused Israel’s government of intransigence. ``The government doesn’t care about peace,″ Abu Sneineh said in his sermon. ``It is offering peace for peace and not land for peace.″

Abu Sneineh also complained of Israeli restrictions on Palestinians living in Jerusalem, a city of 405,000 Jews and 155,000 Arabs. He said hundreds of Palestinians who lived abroad temporarily had their Jerusalem residency permits revoked by the Israeli government in an attempt to reduce the number of Arabs in the city.

``They (the Israelis) have not stopped their harassment against our Muslim people,″ Abu Sneineh said.

He also said the Arab world, especially Persian Gulf countries, have done little to strengthen the Palestinian claim to east Jerusalem, the sector captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war.

``The oil countries have billions of dollars, but we never heard of any Islamic project in the city,″ he said.

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