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Jerusalem: Clashes as Israeli police enter Al-Aqsa Mosque

April 5, 2023

Israeli police said they entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque to disperse "agitators" who reportedly barricaded themselves at the complex. Tensions have been growing at the site amid an overlap of Muslim and Jewish holidays.

Israeli Border Police are deployed at Damascus Gate to the Old City of Jerusalem during a raid by police at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Wednesday, April 5, 2023.
Israeli police clashed with Palestinian worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex in the early hours of WednesdayImage: Mahmoud Illean/AP Photo/picture alliance

Israeli police clashed with dozens of Palestinians inside Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the early hours of Wednesday, Israeli and Palestinian media reported. 

In a statement, Israeli police said officers entered the compound after "masked agitators" barricaded themselves inside the mosque complex. They added that some threw stones and launched fireworks at authorities. Officers said that 350 people have been arrested.

The Palestinian Red Crescent reported 12 Palestinians had sustained injuries. Palestinian media, including the official Palestinian news agency Wafa, reported that "dozens" of people were wounded.

For Muslims, it is currently the holy month of Ramadan, and worshippers had gathered inside for night prayers. Al-Aqsa is considered the third holiest site in Islam. Tensions have also been running high at the site ahead of the Jewish holiday of Passover, which starts on Wednesday evening.

What happened at Al-Aqsa complex?

Police said the move to enter the mosque was in response to what they described as rioting at the complex.

"When the police entered, stones were thrown at them and fireworks were fired from inside the mosque by a large group of agitators," the Reuters news agency cited the police statement as saying. The police added that one of their officers was wounded in the leg as a result.

Video footage from Israeli police and posted by The Jerusalem Post showed officers facing fireworks while entering the complex.

The Palestinian Red Crescent reported that seven Palestinians sustained injuries from rubber-tipped bullets.

Both Israeli and Palestinian media posted videos circulating on social media appearing to show Israeli security forces hitting worshippers inside the complex with rifle butts and batons.

Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported: "The clashes occurred after several hundred Muslim worshippers had barricaded themselves in the Al-Aqsa Mosque after Ramadan prayers. After roughly an hour, police began to clear out the worshippers peacefully. However, a dozen or so masked worshippers remained inside the mosque, with reports of riot police using stun grenades to clear out the area."

Tensions have been particularly high in the lead-up to Wednesday, as some Jewish activists had sought to attempt to sacrifice an animal at the mosque complex to mark the start of Passover, Haaretz reported. 

The potential slaughter of the animal was rejected by the Palestinians, as it would be considered a form of Jewish worship inside the compound. 

On Tuesday, a top Israeli rabbi moved to prevent such attempts by barring animals from being brought into the area.

Rockets fired

Following the clashes, rockets were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said a total of nine rockets were fired early on Wednesday, four of which were intercepted by the aerial defense array, while another four landed "in open areas."

The Israeli Air Force said it responded to the rocket attack by shelling several targets in Gaza, among which a military compound in the north of the coastal area and a military post along the border with Israel.

Palestinians condemn 'brutality' 

The Palestinian Authority (PA), which controls the West Bank, criticized the violence at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

"We warn the occupation against crossing red lines at holy sites, which will lead to a big explosion," said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesperson for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh condemned the Israeli raid, saying "the level of brutality requires urgent Palestinian, Arab and international action."

The Arab League also criticized the raid, saying in a statement that "the extremist approaches" of the Israeli government "will lead to widespread confrontations with the Palestinians if they are not put to an end."

Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt also released statements condemning the actions of Israeli police at the mosque complex.

Meanwhile, the armed wing of Hamas, the Islamist organization which controls the Gaza Strip, condemned as a "crime" what it said was an act of "aggression against worshippers" inside the mosque.

It called on Palestinians in the West Bank "to go en masse to the Al-Aqsa mosque to defend it." The US, EU, Japan and several other nations have named Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Rising tensions as religious festivities overlap

Violence in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem has surged recently. Tensions were highly anticipated this month, as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan overlaps with the Jewish holiday of Passover and Christian celebrations for Easter.

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem is revered as a holy site in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Temple Mount's Wailing Wall, or Western Wall in Hebrew, is the most sacred site to Jews.

The Temple Mount is also known to Muslims as the "Haram al-Sharif," with the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Muslims run the site, while Israeli forces are responsible for its security.

rmt, vh/es (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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