Palestinians have condemned the storming of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Sunday by Israeli police, which then launched tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets at worshippers at Islam’s third holiest site in occupied East Jerusalem, according to Palestinian media.
Israeli police forcefully evacuated Muslim worshippers to clear the way for the Jewish visitors in one of the most sensitive venues in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, said Palestinian officials.
The Palestinian Authority (PA), which governs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, in a statement said it held “the Israeli occupation government fully responsible for the escalation resulting from the Israeli incursion in the Al-Aqsa mosque complex in occupied Jerusalem”.
The PA called the Jewish visits provocative and a “serious threat to “security and stability”.
But the Israeli police said that in the early hours of the morning Palestinian “youths began throwing stones at the Temple Mount esplanade towards police forces, who dispersed them”.
Israeli police monitor and regulate Jewish visits to the compound, which houses Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock shrine – Islam’s holiest site after Mecca and Medina.
The site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque is known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, while Jews refer to the place of worship as the Temple Mount.
The incident took place two days ahead of Eid al-Adha celebrated by Muslims, and on the eve of their annual Hajj pilgrimage.
Hamas, the group that governs the Gaza Strip, called on the Palestinians to make their way to Jerusalem, and to remain in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound until Eid al-Adha prayers.
‘Violations and attacks’
Jordan’s Islamic Waqf, which administers the holy sites in the compound, condemned the “violations and attacks” carried out by “Jewish fanatic groups, with the support and political cover of the Israeli government,” it said in a statement carried by official Palestinian website Wafa, claiming Israel was “aiming for a religious war”.
“The Israeli actions against the mosque are rejected and condemned, and represent a violation of the historical and legal status quo, international law and Israel’s obligations as an occupying power in East Jerusalem,” spokesman for Jordan’s foreign ministry, Daifallah Al-Fayez, said in a statement on Sunday.
According to an Ottoman-era unwritten arrangement supervised by the Waqf, Muslims are allowed to pray at the site, while non-Muslims are only allowed entry as tourists.
On its part, the EU delegation to the Palestinian territories in a tweet said it was “concerned over ongoing tensions” and urged that there be no “acts of incitement”.
It also called for respect for the site’s status quo and urged Israeli, religious and community leaders to urgently “calm down this explosive situation”.
‘Freedom of worship’
But Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett directed that Jewish visits there “continue, while maintaining order at the site”, he said in an official statement after the incident.
In a second statement following the Waqf and PA condemnations, Bennett stressed that “freedom of worship on the Temple Mount will be fully preserved for Muslims as well”, pointing to the upcoming festival of Eid al-Adha.
Sunday also marked the Jewish festival of Tisha B’Av, which typically sees an increase in Israeli visitors to the holy site.
Israeli media reported more than 1,000 Israelis walked through the Jerusalem plaza. But a spokesman for a Jewish group encouraging such visits told AFP that 1,679 pilgrims were at the mosque compound on Sunday morning and afternoon.
They were mostly religious Jews, some with children in tow, who toured the site under heavy police guard to mark the Tisha B’Av fast day.
Concerned over ongoing tensions around the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Acts of incitement have to be avoided and the status quo respected. Israeli authorities, religious, and community leaders from all sides should act urgently to calm down this explosive situation.
— EU and Palestinians (@EUpalestinians) July 18, 2021
Two years ago, when the Jewish and Muslim holidays coincided, dozens of Palestinians were wounded by Israeli forces and seven others were arrested.
The area is in Jerusalem’s walled Old City and part of the territory Israel captured in a 1967 Middle East war. Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1980, in a step that was never recognised by the international community.
In May, Israel launched an 11-day assault on the Gaza Strip after Israeli forces stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, attacking Muslim worshippers during the final days of Ramadan.
The Israeli air raids on Gaza killed at least 256 Palestinians, including 66 children, while rockets launched by Palestinian groups killed at least 12 people, including two children. The escalation ended with an internationally brokered ceasefire.