August 28, 2009 - 12:00am

Jerusalem Police on Friday arrested five Palestinians in the vicinity of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Temple Mount ahead of Ramadan prayers, Israel Radio reported.

One of the men, a resident of the Isawiyah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, attacked a police officer and lightly hurt him after being asked to undergo a security check.

Another man, a resident of Rahat, was arrested for carrying a knife, while a Gaza man was detained for being in the area without a permit.

Thousands of Israeli police deployed in Jerusalem on Friday in a bid to ward off violence ahead of Ramadan prayers at Islam's holiest site in the city.

Police also restricted access to Palestinians wanting to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City.

Friday is the Muslim day of worship and is marked by large communal prayers, especially during Ramadan. This is the first Friday of Ramadan this year.

Israel loosened restrictions governing who can enter Jerusalem from the West Bank to allow Palestinian men over 50 and women over 45 to enter, as well as Palestinians with special permits.

Only Palestinians with permits are allowed to enter Jerusalem from the West Bank.

However, many Palestinians seemed to be unaware of the restrictions. At West Bank checkpoints, tour buses brought hundreds of Palestinians hoping to attend the prayers, but many were turned away.

"This is an injustice," said Samira Abu Baker, 57, who decided not to go through one crossing north of Jerusalem after soldiers refused to allow her daughter-in-law through.

Sheik Mohammed Hussein, a top Muslim cleric in Jerusalem, charged that the restrictions were part of an attempt by Israel to make Jerusalem Jewish and are meant to limit the Palestinian and Islamic presence in Jerusalem.

In a statement Thursday Israeli police vowed to crack down on any violence.

"The restrictions will not apply to Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem, who hold Israeli residency rights, or Muslim citizens of Israel," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

The huge plaza in front of the silver-domed Al-Aqsa Mosque, also home to the golden-topped Dome of the Rock shrine, has room for as many as 300,000 worshippers. In recent years, because of Israeli security restrictions, fewer have attended the Ramadan services on Friday.

The Muslim shrines were built atop the ruins of the biblical Jewish temples, making the walled hilltop one of the most sensitive flashpoints in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven from the site. Both groups claim sovereignty there.


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