Dozens of Palestinians – and four Israeli soldiers – were injured on Sunday when Israeli security forces stormed occupied East Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and clashed with Muslim worshippers.
Eyewitnesses told Anadolu Agency that Israeli police had fired teargas and rubber bullets at Muslim worshippers near the compound’s iconic Al-Aqsa and Al-Qibali mosques.
“Israeli forces sealed the Al-Aqsa gates, preventing worshippers from entering the mosque,” eyewitnesses said.
Mosque Director Omar Al-Qiswani, for his part, told Anadolu Agency that he – along with six mosque guards – had been attacked by Israeli security forces while trying to prevent Israeli troops from storming the mosque.
Early Sunday, scores of extremist Jewish settlers – led by Israeli Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel and backed by dozens of Israeli police and soldiers – stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
“About 140 settlers, accompanied by about 40 Israeli police and Special Forces troops, forced their way into the mosque compound via the Al-Magharbeh Gate,” Sheikh Azzam Al-Khatib, director-general of Al-Aqsa affairs, told Anadolu Agency.
Israeli forces, he said, had fired rubber bullets and teargas at some 300 Muslim worshippers who had gathered near the Al-Qibali and Al-Aqsa mosques to protest the settlers’ arrival.
“About 25 Palestinians were injured by rubber bullets, while at least 45 others suffered teargas inhalation,” Al-Khatib added.
Israeli media, meanwhile, reported that four Israeli soldiers had been hurt in the melee, two of whom had since been taken to hospital for treatment.
For Muslims, Al-Aqsa represents the world’s third holiest site. Jews, for their part, refer to the area as the “Temple Mount,” claiming it was the site of two prominent Jewish temples in ancient times.
In recent months, groups of extremist Jewish settlers – often accompanied by Israeli security forces – have repeatedly forced their way into the Al-Aqsa complex. The frequent violations anger Palestinian Muslims and occasionally lead to violent confrontations.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem during the 1967 Middle East War. It later annexed the city in 1980, claiming it as the capital of the self-proclaimed Jewish state in a move never recognised by the international community.
In September 2000, a visit to Al-Aqsa by controversial Israeli politician Ariel Sharon sparked what later became known as the “Second Intifada,” a popular uprising against the Israeli occupation in which thousands of Palestinians were killed and injured.