Some 500 Israeli settlers stormed the Al-Aqsa compound and pledged to rebuild the alleged Jewish temple at the site as they performed religious rituals yesterday, according to the Jerusalem Post.
In the past Israeli settlers have practiced these rituals in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem's Old City; this was the first year that the ceremony was carried out so close to the Muslim holy site.
Settlers also chanted during the ceremony, threatening to rebuild the Jewish temple they allege originally stood at the site of Al-Aqsa: "The Temple will be rebuilt; the City of Zion will be restored. And there we will sing a new song and journey up."
Dozens marching in Ir David before Nisuch HaMa'im ritual pic.twitter.com/cEBfVVsaBr
— Udi Shaham (@udi_shaham) October 8, 2017
President of the Temple Institute, Rabbi Yisrael Ariel who attended the march, said that he was pleased at the ongoing trend of Israelis storming Al-Aqsa Mosque:
"In the past, everyone was saying 'the Western Wall here' and 'the Western Wall there.' The people here, attending the ceremony, feel that the Western Wall is another stop on the way – the main goal is the Temple [Al-Aqsa Mosque]. It might take time, but it's a fact now and no one can stop it."
Ariel also stressed that it was important for Jews to practice religious rituals at Al-Aqsa to strengthen the campaign to replace the mosque with a temple.
"It is like a war – you cannot go to the battlefield without training your soldiers. You must teach them the combat doctrine or else they will lose the battle," he concluded.
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. 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.
Similarly in Hebron, Israeli authorities yesterday closed the Ibrahimi Mosque to all non-Jewish visitors until Tuesday. The mosque, which has been designated a Palestinian World Heritage Site under threat from Israel, is regularly stormed by extreme settlers, with over 3,000 breaking in last month under the protection of the military.
Last week Israel announced its 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. While it has become standard practice for Israel to impose blanket restrictions on Palestinians' movement, 11 days is an unusually long period for such a closure.