Israeli forces raided the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem Sunday morning, clashing with worshipers, injuring at least 12 Palestinians and detaining at least two Palestinians and two South African nationals, as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan entered its final ten holiest days.
The confrontations began after Israeli police forcibly opened a gate to the mosque compound used for tourists and Jewish visitors, mosque director Sheikh Omar Kiswani told Anadolu Agency.
He described the events as “unprecedented” during the last 10 days of the Muslim holy month Ramadan.
Kiswani said five Palestinians were injured.
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 East Jerusalem for treatment.
Witnesses said Israeli forces toured the Al-Qabli mosque in the compound in the early morning, before opening the Moroccan Gate to allow a group of ultra-religious Jewish Israelis to enter the complex, which caused clashes between Palestinian worshipers and Israeli forces.
He further spoke out against the break-ins launched by Israeli settler gangs at al-Aqsa during Ramadan in a barefaced violation of national and international laws. “The Muslim worshipers were attacked while they have been maintaining vigil at al-Aqsa as has always been the case during the last ten days of Ramadan,” said Sabri.
From his side, The Head of the Supreme Islamic Council, Sheikh Ekrema Sabri, slammed an Israeli police attack on the Muslim worshipers at the holy al-Aqsa Mosque earlier in the day. Sheikh Sabri denounced the break-in carried out by the Israeli occupation police into the plazas of the holy al-Aqsa Mosque in the morning and the violence perpetrated against the peaceful Muslim worshipers.
Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld said four masked Palestinians were arrested for disrupting the visit.
Contrary to claims from mosque officials, Rosenfeld said it was not true that non-Muslim visits to the mosque compound were suspended during the last 10 days of Ramadan, adding that security arrangements would continue as usual.
Jerusalem-based activist group Wadi Hilweh Information Center posted videos on social media of armed police stationed around the mosque complex and claimed that rubber bullets and sound grenades were used during the confrontation.
A number of Muslim worshipers sustained injuries while others were arrested following the assault. Sources at the Islamic Awqaf Department said the Israeli forces prevented Muslims aged below 30 from entering the Mosque, sparking further tension at and around the holy site.
Muslims place particular importance on the last 10 days of Ramadan, which sees an increase in visitors to the mosque for tarawih (nightly) prayers.
Visiting times and prayer rights at the mosque for non-Muslims have been an ongoing source of tension between Palestinians and Israeli police.
For Muslims, Al-Aqsa represents the world’s third holiest site. Jews, for their part, refer to the area as the “Temple Mount,” claiming it was the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times.
Some extremist Jewish groups have called for the demolition of the Al-Aqsa Mosque so that a Jewish temple might be built in its place.
In late 2000, a visit to the site by controversial Israeli politician Ariel Sharon sparked what later became known as the “Second Intifada” – a popular uprising against the Israeli occupation in which thousands of Palestinians were killed.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem during the 1967 Middle East War. It later annexed the city in 1980, claiming it as the capital of the Jewish state in a move never recognized by the international community.