Dozens of right-wing Israelis and settlers took to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Thursday, the third day of the Jewish holiday of Passover, as thousands of others performed religious rituals at the Western Wall in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem.
Firas al-Dibs, spokesperson of the Islamic Waqf — the organization responsible for managing the compound’s affairs — told Ma’an that large groups of Israeli settlers, approximately 385 in total, “raided the mosque” Thursday morning and throughout the afternoon.
Al-Dibs added that Israeli forces detained two Palestinians youths after pulling them out of the Al-Aqsa compound, searching them and informing them that they were banned from entering the mosque.
Thursday marked the third day of the Jewish holiday of Passover, as well as the third day of similar incidents at the Al-Aqsa Mosque — the third holiest site in Islam, and Judaism’s most holy place, as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood.
Wednesday saw at least 291 “extremist settlers” tour the holy site as thousands of Israeli police deployed across the city to provide protection for Israelis, who toured the holy site in groups of 30 to 35 between 7:30 and 11 a.m., according to the Islamic Waqf.
Leading up to the start of Passover, Israeli forces detained at least 30 Palestinians during raids in occupied East Jerusalem overnight Saturday and banned them from the Al-Aqsa Mosque, while three Palestinians from northern Israel were also banned from the holy site over a Facebook post related to Passover, amid a security crackdown imposed by Israel for the holiday.
“For (Palestinian) Jerusalemites, the Jewish holiday season means an escalation in arbitrary detentions, house raids, and searches — measures that terrify families. The installation of additional security checkpoints, particularly at the Al-Aqsa Mosque (compound)’s gates and in the Old City, only increase tensions in Jerusalem,” Palestinian Prisoners’ Society (PPS) head in Jerusalem Nadi Qaws told Ma’an last week.
The Passover holiday in 2016 was marked by near-daily conflict as right-wing Israelis descended on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound to perform religious rituals.
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 occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.
Despite this agreement, Israeli authorities regularly allow Jewish visitors to enter the site and carry out religious worship — often under armed guard.
Such visits spark frustration among Palestinians who see the incursions as a direct threat to Palestinian sovereignty and any potential for a future independent Palestinian state, which has been effectively marred by increasing settler presence across Palestinian land.
Meanwhile, Israeli forces have almost entirely sealed the occupied West Bank — excluding urgent humanitarian cases — for more than a week for Passover, preventing scores of Palestinians with Israeli-issued permits to access their jobs in Jerusalem and Israel.
Severe restrictions on movement for Palestinians are typically implemented by Israeli authorities during Jewish holidays for alleged security purposes.
The closures do not apply to Israeli settlers residing illegally in the West Bank.