Israeli settlers have increased the number of break-ins at Al-Aqsa Mosque in the run up to Jewish holidays, straining tensions in occupied East Jerusalem, according to the Palestinian Information Centre.
Dozens of Israeli settlers stormed the compound again this morning, performing religious rituals at the Muslim holy site. Some settlers also delivered speeches on the alleged Jewish temple that Israel insists existed prior to the building of the mosque. Despite no evidence being found to credit their belief, Israel has used the allegation to justify continued excavations and tunnelling under Al-Aqsa.
Settlers are also preparing to tour the Old City under police protection, passing Al-Qataneen market on the way to the mosque, in a move that is expected to spark furore among Palestinian worshippers and shopkeepers.
Whilst Israelis have been permitted to enter the compound at will, Muslim worshippers face heavy restrictions when trying to enter the site to perform their daily prayers. Israeli authorities also announced their intention to close off occupied East Jerusalem, as well as the West Bank and Gaza for 11 days while settlers mark the Jewish holiday Sukkot, which begins today and ends on 11 October.
Last month, settler groups called for increasing raids of Al-Aqsa Mosque during the Jewish holidays and were assured of their protection by Israeli occupying forces. It was also reported that the Israeli government has fixed a time for members of the Knesset (MKs) to enter the Al-Aqsa compound, after right wing parliamentarians called for greater incursion at the holy site.
Their calls seemed to have been heeded when earlier this week, the Palestinian Minister of Waqf and Religious Affairs, Youssef Ideiss, revealed that Israel had violated the Noble Sanctuary 110 times in September alone. He called on the international community to pressure Israel to stop its attacks on the mosque, which Israel implements as part of its “judaisation” policy.
Israel also moved to ban Sheikh Najeh Bkeerat, the director of Waqf Property which manages Al-Aqsa Mosque, from accessing the Muslim holy site for three months; this is the sixteenth time he has been banned from his place of work.
In posts shared on social media, Muslim activists called on the Palestinians to intensify vigils at Al-Aqsa as of today, in order to defend the site against Israel’s assaults.