Thousands gather at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa for first Friday prayers of Ramadan

JERUSALEM, April 8 (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Muslims flocked to Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque on the first Friday of Ramadan for noon prayers, which passed peacefully despite concerns about a repeat of Israeli-Palestinian violence that erupted during the Muslim holy month last year.

From early morning, residents of cities such as Bethlehem and Ramallah in the occupied West Bank lined up at Israeli checkpoints to visit Al-Aqsa.

After two years of COVID restrictions, Israel has allowed some Palestinians from the West Bank who hold a travel permit to enter Jerusalem.

But tensions are again high in the city holy to Christians, Jews and Muslims. A Palestinian gunman shot dead two people at a Tel Aviv bar on Thursday, the latest in a string of deadly attacks in Israel. read more

"We thought they (Israel) won't let us enter due to the last escalation, but thank God everything is ok," said Hussein Abayat from Bethlehem. "Al-Aqsa is the most valuable thing we have, we do everything in our power to visit it and the rest is up to God."

Israeli forces are on high alert across the country and there will be "no restrictions" in their fight to "eradicate terror", Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned Thursday's attack while cautioning against "continuing the repeated incursions into Al-Aqsa Mosque and the provocative actions of extremist settler groups", the Palestinian WAFA news agency reported.

Days before the start of Ramadan, far-right Israeli lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir toured the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, known to Jews as Temple Mount, in a move seen by Palestinians as a provocation.

Al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits atop a plateau in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City, is one of the most sensitive sites in the Middle East conflict.

Last year saw nightly clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police during the fasting month. Threats of Palestinian displacement in East Jerusalem and police raids at Al-Aqsa Mosque helped ignite an 11-day Israel-Gaza war that killed more than 250 Palestinians in Gaza and 13 people in Israel.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in a 1967 war, later annexing it, in a move not recognized internationally. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Reporting by Sinan Abu Mayzer and Amar Awad; Writing by Henriette Chacar; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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