Tensions flare as Israeli police enter Al-Aqsa Mosque again
At least 19 people were reportedly injured as Israeli police carried out the second raid at the mosque since Friday.
Israeli police have entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound as worshippers gathered for early morning prayers, two days after detaining hundreds at the site in another raid at the mosque.
Israeli authorities said they entered the compound on Sunday to facilitate routine visits by far-right Jews to the holy site and that Palestinians had stockpiled stones and set up barriers in the compound.
The police cleared Palestinians out of the sprawling esplanade outside the mosque, while dozens remained inside.
Palestinian medical workers said at least 19 people were injured. Three people were transferred to the hospital after being beaten or hit by rubber-coated bullets, according to The Palestinian Red Cross. The organisation said it was prevented from accessing the compound but managed to assist the injured near Bab al-Asbat.
Nine people were arrested, police said, after Palestinians smashed the windows of two buses carrying Jewish visitors to the site, lightly injuring several of them.
Al Jazeera’s Natasha Ghoneim, reporting from occupied East Jerusalem, said the raid took place ahead of a three-hour timeframe during which non-Muslims are allowed to visit the compound, the third-holiest in Islam and the holiest for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount.
Tensions had been high after the far-right Jewish group Return to Temple Mount offered a cash prize to anyone who went into Al-Aqsa Mosque and sacrificed a goat – a Jewish religious ritual that is prohibited inside the mosque and that would constitute a further provocation.
“This didn’t happen but it went viral on social media,” Ghoneim said, adding that it contributed to a rise in tensions.
The Palestinian Authority on Sunday laid the blame on Israel for the consequences of the current tension at Al-Aqsa.
“We call on the US administration to break its silence and stop this aggression that will inflame the entire region,” authority spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said in a statement carried by state news agency Wafa.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry also condemned the Israeli escalation at the flashpoint site. A ministry statement said the Israeli escalation flouted an Arab and Islamic backlash and was “a continuation of [Israeli] plans to Judaize Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
The head of Hamas warned Israel that “Al-Aqsa is ours and ours alone”.
“Our people have the right to access it and pray in it, and we will not bow down to (Israeli) repression and terror,” Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis on Sunday called for free access to the holy sites in Jerusalem as he delivered his annual Easter address, which this year coincided with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish festival of Passover.
“May Israelis, Palestinians and all who dwell in the Holy City, together with the pilgrims, experience the beauty of peace, dwell in fraternity and enjoy free access to the Holy Places in mutual respect for the rights of each,” he said.
Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, said the raids by Israeli forces into the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound – also known as the Noble Sanctuary – is due to Israel’s “colonial machinations”.
“It clearly has a goal in mind and that is denying the Palestinians any sense of sovereignty over their most sacred site, which is the Noble Sanctuary,” he said, speaking from London.
In the face of total control of Palestinian life by the Israeli occupation, the Palestinians regard the compound as their last stand, Bishara continued.
“Everything has been taken away from them – the land, the olive groves, their homes, their dignity,” he said.
“Israel took control over everything that is Palestine, from the river to the sea with the exception of the Noble Sanctuary. Palestinians continue to think that at least they can have that symbol of Palestinian sovereignty in the Old City of Jerusalem.”
More than 300 Palestinians were detained on Friday in Al-Aqsa in what rights watchdogs say was the largest en masse arrest over the course of one hour and in one location in more than 20 years.
At least 158 Palestinians were injured in the ensuing violence.
Videos circulating online on Friday showed police firing tear gas and stun grenades and Palestinians throwing stones back.
Others showed worshippers barricading themselves inside the mosque amid what appeared to be clouds of tear gas.
But Palestinian cameraman Rami al-Khatib, who witnessed the raid, said: “They [Israeli forces] brutally emptied the compound. They were attacking the mosque staff, normal people, elders, young people”.
“There were many injured people, they fired rubber bullets inside Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. They were beating everyone, even the paramedics, they hit them,” said al-Khatib, who suffered a broken hand.
Israeli police said they entered the compound on Friday to break up a “violent” crowd that remained at the end of the morning prayers.
Palestinians have long feared that Israel plans to take over the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound or partition it.
Israeli authorities say they are committed to maintaining the status quo, but in recent years large groups of nationalist and religious Jews have regularly visited the site with police escorts, something the Palestinians view as a provocation.
Palestinians and Israelis have witnessed an increase in violence over the past month, with Israeli forces stepping up raids, shootings and arrests across the occupied West Bank and Palestinian attackers targeting people in Israeli cities.
Four attacks by Palestinians in four Israeli cities have taken place since March 22, killing 14 people, while Israel has increased its raids on Palestinian towns and villages, leading to violence and arrests.
At least 22 Palestinians have been killed in the same period.
Palestinians say the latest outbreak of violence stems from frustration over Israeli policies towards them, the continued occupation of the Palestinian territories, and weak Palestinian leadership.
Hundreds of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip took to the streets to protest Israeli forces breaking into the Al-Aqsa Mosque on Friday, in a show of support for people living in the occupied West Bank.
Last year, raids of Al-Aqsa Mosque by Israeli security forces during the holy month of Ramadan heightened tensions further and, four days later, an 11-day Israeli assault on Gaza began, ostensibly in response to rockets fired by Hamas towards Israel.