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Muslims, Jews Observe Holidays in Jerusalem Under Tight Security

Security was tight in Jerusalem Friday as Muslims and Jews observed major religious holidays. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, Palestinians from the occupied territories were barred from attending prayers at a hotly disputed holy place.

The muezzin summoned tens of thousands of Muslims to Friday prayers for the holy month of Ramadan at the Mosque of al-Aksa in Jerusalem's Old City, the third holiest place in Islam. The site is known to Jews at the Temple Mount, the holiest place in Judaism. The conflicting claims often raise tensions in Jerusalem during religious holidays. This week, Jerusalem is also awash with Jewish pilgrims who have gathered for Sukkot, the biblical Feast of Tabernacles.

Some 4,000 Israeli police and soldiers deployed in and around the Old City, double the usual number. Thirteen Palestinians have been killed in Israeli raids in the Gaza Strip over the past three days, and police feared riots could erupt after prayers at the mosque. The army sealed off the West Bank and Gaza Strip, barring Palestinians from entering Israel.

Police say the security proved effective and Ramadan prayers passed quietly. But Mahmoud Taaboun, an Arab resident of East Jerusalem, told VOA that the Israeli measures have cast a shadow over the holiday.

"I am very sad because of that," he said. "No joy, the joy have been stolen through these many incursions in the city through the Israeli army."

In Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, sukkot, or small booths, have popped up everywhere for the Feast of Tabernacles, in yards, gardens and on balconies. The Bible commands Jews to build the huts to remember how the ancient Israelites lived in the wilderness for 40 years on their way to the Promised Land.

Moshe Kirshner is proud of his Sukka, with a roof of palm branches and a table full of pomegranates.

"We build special, temporary-type buildings, as a remembrance of when we came out of Egypt, when God redeemed the Jewish people from slavery," he said.

Some 7,000 Evangelical Christians are also in Jerusalem this week. Inspired by an Old Testament prophecy, they have come from around the world to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles in solidarity with Israel.