Israeli police assault worshippers, close Al-Aqsa compound

Scuffles break out after Israeli police allege a firebomb was thrown at their post inside the holy compound.

    Children stand by a barrier as Israeli policemen block an entrance leading to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound [Ammar Awad/Reuters]
    Children stand by a barrier as Israeli policemen block an entrance leading to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound [Ammar Awad/Reuters]

    Israeli forces have closed all entrances to occupied East Jerusalem's flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque complex amid ongoing confrontation with Palestinian worshippers, a Palestinian official has said.

    "Dozens of Israeli soldiers stormed the Al-Aqsa compound and assaulted several religious figures," Firas al-Dibs, spokesperson for Jerusalem's Religious Endowments Authority, a Jordan-run agency tasked with overseeing the city's Muslim and Christian sites, said in a statement on Tuesday.

    According to al-Dibs, Al-Aqsa Mosque's Director Omar Kiswani and Sheikh Wasef al-Bakri, the acting supreme judge of Jerusalem's Islamic Courts, were among those assaulted by Israeli police.

    He said baton-wielding police attacked dozens of Muslim worshippers near the Al-Aqsa compound's Dome of the Rock.

    "At least five Palestinians were arrested before being taken into custody for further investigation," al-Dibs said.

    Reporting from occupied East Jerusalem, Al Jazeera's Harry Fawcett said the Israeli police claim a "Molotov cocktail was thrown towards a police building" inside the compound.

    "We've heard from Palestinian sources inside saying that it may instead have been firework. What took place afterwards was some fairly obvious scuffling between the Israeli security forces and Palestinian worshippers," Fawcett said, adding that gates into the Old City have been closed.

    According to Israeli NGO Ir Amim, at least 10 Palestinians were injured during the clashes, after which all worshippers were forced out of the site.

    "Police used excessive force in responding, violently throwing one woman down to the ground and aggressively pushing others," Ir Amim wrote in a statement on Tuesday.

    "The disproportionately harsh response taken by the Israel police may be interpreted as a brash assertion of Israeli authority over the compound. Emptying Al-Aqsa, closing its doors and limiting access to three major entry points to the Old City communicates a clear message of unilateral Israeli control."

    The NGO warned that the use of excessive force to undermine the status quo will further ramp up tensions at the site.

    While the Palestinian presidency has condemned the escalation at the flashpoint religious site, Israeli authorities have not yet commented.

    A statement published by Palestine's WAFA news agency said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is maintaining "intensive contacts" with all relevant parties with the hope of defusing the situation.

    Abbas has called on the international community to intervene and accused Israeli police and settlers of "consistently violating the sanctity of the mosque and provoking the sentiments of Muslims".

    Tension mounted in occupied East Jerusalem last month, when Israeli police briefly sealed the Al-Aqsa compound's Al-Rahma Gate, located adjacent to the eastern wall of the Old City, sparking Palestinian demonstrations.

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    In the weeks since, Israeli authorities have banned dozens of Palestinians, including religious officials, from entering Al-Aqsa, the third holiest site in Islam.

    "What was already a tense situation following a three-week battle over this area within the Al Aqsa Mosque compound has now come to a head with this latest incident. The entire site remains closed," said Fawcett.

    Israel occupied East Jerusalem, where the Al-Aqsa compound is located, during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. It annexed the entire city in 1980 in a move that has not been recognised by the international community.

    Jerusalem: Dividing al-Aqsa

    Al Jazeera World

    Jerusalem: Dividing al-Aqsa

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies