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Worshipers Take Risks For Ramadan Prayers

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Worshipers Take Risks For Ramadan Prayers

Middle East

Worshipers Take Risks For Ramadan Prayers

Worshipers Take Risks For Ramadan Prayers

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This Ramadan, Israel loosened restrictions for worshipers in the west bank who wanted to go pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem — women over 45 and men over 50 were allowed to pass through the tight security cordon Israel has put in place. Many others were turned away and some had to take great risks to fulfill their desire to pray at the third holiest site for Islam. Lourdes Garcia Navarro shares her reporter's notebook.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan ended this weekend. On Friday, NPR correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro went to the West Bank city of Ramallah. There, devotees were trying to cross into East Jerusalem to pray at Islam's third holiest site, the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Many were turned away because of Israeli restrictions. She has this reporter's notebook.

(Soundbite of conversation)

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: The scene at the Kalandia crossing on the edge of the West Bank city of Ramallah is chaotic. Rows of Israeli soldiers check Palestinian IDs.

Muslims believe that the Prophet Mohammad ascended into heaven from the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem's old city. But only women over 45 and men over 50 are allowed to pass through the tight security cordon during Ramadan, so that they can pray there. The reasoning is that older Palestinians are less likely to carry out terror attacks.

Others like 40-year-old Tasmia Suleman(ph) are turned away. She is with her deaf and (unintelligible) mother who, while permitted to cross, is afraid to do so without her daughter.

Ms. TASMIA SULEMAN: (Through translator) I feel bad. This is the last Friday of Ramadan. Yes, I'm young, but I had a permit. But they took my permit and they tore it, and now it's worthless.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: They say they will go back to their village, but some do not give up so easily. Underneath a high wall in the side of hill there is a drainage tunnel. A shepherd followed his flock of sheep into it and discovered that it allowed access to Jerusalem from the West Bank.

Naradik Quos(ph), in his 20s, has been trying to sneak past the security barriers since Ramadan began. A week ago, he was caught by Israeli soldiers here.

Mr. NARADIK QUOS: (Through translator) At the end of the tunnel, the soldiers were waiting for me. I'm quite nervous, because last week they treated me very badly.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We follow him into the long, dark tunnel. Our feet sink into sewage. Ugh.

Mr. QUOS: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Smells really bad, he's saying and he's right. We're now about halfway through the tunnel and the mud's pretty deep. Our feet keep on sticking to the bottom. And it's pitch-black and I think it's a good thing we can't see what we're stepping on.

Naradik says he's taking the risk because he feels it's his religious duty.

Mr. QUOS: (Through translator) The mahathi(ph), or religious leader of Palestine decreed that if one makes a serious effort to get to the mosque and fails, in the eyes of God it will be considered as if he has prayed in the mosque.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Suddenly, we can go no further. The Israeli military has blocked the passage with dirt. Naradik sits down dejectedly.

Mr. QUOS: (Through translator) I feel demoralized and very far from Jerusalem.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Back outside, we come across a young man who refuses to give us his name for fear of being arrested by the Israelis.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says he's waiting for the soldiers on the other side to leave so he can dig an opening through the dirt that's blocking the tunnel. He's had to do it several times before, he says. He says up to 200 people a day go through when the tunnel is open.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It will take him a few hours, he says, to burrow to another passageway. Naradik nods and smiles.

Mr. QUOS: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says, even if they close the whole world, Palestinians will still find holes in the wall.

Mr. QUOS: Inshallah.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News in the West Bank.

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