Israeli special forces stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem on Monday morning for the second day in a row, evacuating Muslim worshipers, including the elderly, to allow right-wing Jewish Israelis to tour the compound freely.
Director of the Islamic Endowment and Al-Aqsa Mosque affairs Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib told Ma’an that “it was Israeli Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu who made the decision to storm the Al-Aqsa mosque.”
He explained that Israeli police confirmed midnight Sunday that the Moroccan Gate — from which Jewish extremists usually enter the compound under military protection — “would remain closed during the last ten days of the holy month of Ramadan.”
For several years, added Sheikh al-Khatib, Jewish worshipers and tourists have not been allowed into the Al-Aqsa compound during the last ten days of Ramadan, as the days are particularly sacred to Muslims.
The compound was reportedly quiet until 9 a.m, when Israeli special forces suddenly stormed the compound via the Moroccan Gate to “protect settlers” who came in. Israeli forces then chained shut all the gates of the southern mosque (the main mosque in the compound) while dozens of worshipers were still inside.
An Israeli police spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
Monday’s raid came a day after Israeli forces clashed with worshipers and injured up to 12 Palestinians when they raided the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound to protect a group of extremist Israelis visiting the site.
At least four were detained from the compound, two of whom were South African nationals. The Palestinian Red Crescent said Israeli forces fired rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas canisters at a group of worshipers, and also hit them with batons. Five Palestinians were taken to the al-Maqasid Hospital in occupied East Jerusalem for treatment.
Prior to the past two days of raids and visits by Israeli extremists, Israel had closed the Al-Aqsa compound to Jewish and international visitors during the last 10 days of Ramadan for the past 14 years. The United Nations cultural heritage body UNESCO adopted a resolution regarding Israeli actions in the occupied Palestinian territory earlier this year, condemning Israel — “the occupying power” — for restricting access to Al-Aqsa for Muslim worshipers, the storming of the site by right-wing Israeli extremists under armed guard, and called on Israel to restore the status quo that designates Jordan the exclusive authority on the compound.
The resolution passed with 26 votes for and six against (including the United States, Britain, and Germany against). Netanyahu slammed the language in the draft decision for ignoring Jewish ties to the holy site, and announced that he would be holding an educational seminar for UN personnel on Jewish history.
The third holiest site in Islam, Al-Aqsa is also venerated as Judaism’s most holy place, as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood.
While Jewish visitation is permitted to the compound, non-Muslim worship is prohibited according to an agreement signed between Israel and the Jordanian government after Israel’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.
Despite this agreement, the Israeli authorities regularly allow Jewish visitors to enter the site — often under armed guard. Such visits are typically made by right-wingers attempting to unsettle the status quo at the site, and coincide with restrictions on Palestinian access, including bans on entrance and detentions.[Source: Ma’an News agency]