Palestinians Flock to Jerusalem in Defiance of Israeli Restrictions

Thousands of Palestinians surged through the main Israeli crossing point from the northern West Bank, braving Israeli restrictions to worship on the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at a major Islamic site in Israeli-ruled Jerusalem.

Women and children were among those pouring through the Qalandia checkpoint north of Jerusalem. Men under 45, deemed a security risk by Israel, were barred from crossing though some had traveled for hours to in hopes of praying at the Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third-holiest site.

The worshippers were initially told that only men over 50 would be allowed through, but an officer later announced through a megaphone that the age limit had been dropped to 45 years.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that between 175,000 and 200,000 worshippers were expected to take part in midday prayers at Al-Aqsa, from where tradition says the Prophet Muhammad, Islam's founder, ascended to heaven.

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"Prayer in Al Aqsa is different from praying in any other mosque and Jerusalem is different from any other place," said Walid Rommaneh, a 47-year-old man from Ramallah who was waiting in the crush at Qalandia for his turn to pass through. His wife, teenage daughter and young son had been admitted earlier.

Dozens of younger and more agile men scaled the nearby walls of Israel's West Bank separation barrier and scattered into the neighboring Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Police rounded up several and sent them back.

Border police manning the crossing pushed back Palestinians trying to shove through the turnstiles but no serious use of force was seen at Qalandia, and Rosenfeld said there were no reports of any serious incident inside Jerusalem.

Last Friday Israeli forces used tear gas, stun grenades, rubber bullets and water cannon to disperse Palestinians whose anger and frustration at entry restrictions erupted in disturbances at several checkpoints around Jerusalem.