Israeli police have attacked and arrested Palestinian worshippers in a violent raid on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem at dawn, according to witnesses.
At least 400 Palestinians were arrested on Wednesday and remain in Israeli custody, according to local officials. They are being held at a police station in Atarot, in occupied East Jerusalem.
Palestinian witnesses said Israeli forces used excessive force including stun grenades and tear gas, causing suffocation injuries to the worshippers, and beatings with batons and rifles.
The Palestinian Red Crescent reported there were 12 injuries, including three people who were transferred to hospital. It also said in a statement that Israeli forces prevented its medics from reaching Al-Aqsa.
The raids continued until Wednesday morning when Israeli forces were once again seen assaulting and pushing Palestinians out of the mosque compound and preventing them from praying, before Israelis were allowed in under police protection.
“I was sitting on a chair reciting (Quran),” an elderly woman told the Reuters news agency while sitting outside the mosque, struggling to catch her breath. “They hurled stun grenades, one of them hit my chest,” she said as she began to cry.
Israeli police said in a statement that they were forced to enter the compound after “masked agitators” locked themselves inside the mosque with fireworks, sticks and stones.
“When the police entered, stones were thrown at them and fireworks were fired from inside the mosque by a large group of agitators,” the statement said, adding that a police officer was wounded in the leg.
Tension has already been high in occupied East Jerusalem and West Bank for months. There are fears of further violence as important religious festivals – the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and the Jewish Passover – converge.
Palestinians pray as Israeli security forces take positions at the Al-Aqsa compound [Ammar Awad/Reuters]
Palestinian groups condemned the latest attacks on worshippers, which they described as a crime.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said in a statement “What happened in Jerusalem is a major crime against the worshipers. Prayer in Al-Aqsa Mosque is not with the permission of the [Israeli] occupation, but rather it is our right.”
“Al-Aqsa is for the Palestinians and for all Arabs and Muslims, and the raiding of it is a spark of revolution against the occupation,” he added.
Jordan, which acts as custodian of Jerusalem’s Christian and Muslim holy sites under a status quo arrangement in place since the 1967 war, condemned Israel’s “flagrant” storming of the compound.
Egypt’s foreign ministry, meanwhile, called for an immediate halt to Israel’s “blatant assault” on Al-Aqsa worshippers.
A Palestinian worshipper sweeps debris after a raid by Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. [Mahmoud Illean/AP Photo]
Confrontations at Al-Aqsa, the third-holiest shrine in Islam and the most sacred site in Judaism – in which it is referred to as the Temple Mount – have sparked deadly cross-border wars between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers in the past – the last being in 2021.
Hamas condemned the latest raid as “an unprecedented crime” and called on Palestinians in the West Bank “to go en masse to the Al-Aqsa mosque to defend it”.
After the violence at Al-Aqsa, several rockets were fired from northern Gaza towards Israel.
The Israeli army said five rockets were intercepted by the aerial defence system around the city of Sderot in southern Israel and that four others had fallen in uninhabited areas.
In Gaza, dozens of demonstrators took to the streets overnight, burning tyres.
“We swear to defend and protect the Al-Aqsa mosque,” the AFP news agency reported them as saying.
Palestinians see Al-Aqsa as one of the few national symbols over which they retain some element of control. They are, however, fearful of a slow encroachment by Jewish groups akin to what has happened at the Ibrahimi Mosque (Cave of the Patriarchs) in Hebron, where half of the mosque was turned into a synagogue after 1967.
Palestinians are also worried about far-right Israeli movements that want to demolish the Islamic structures in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and build a Jewish temple in their place.