An estimated 40,000 Israeli settlers have stormed into the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron over the past two days as they mark the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, the Palestinian Information Centre has reported. Israeli occupying forces imposed a curfew on the indigenous Palestinian residents of the occupied West Bank city and closed off numerous roads leading to the mosque in order to allow settlers to enter freely.
Some 22,500 Jewish settlers performed religious rituals at the Muslim holy site on Monday, with a further 22,000 storming the building yesterday. The extent of the incursion is unprecedented, but such events are increasingly common.
Last month 3,000 settlers stormed the mosque and conducted religious ceremonies inside the prayer hall. Meanwhile, Muslim worshippers have been prevented from entering the mosque to perform their obligatory five daily prayers and have also been banned from making the call to prayer.
The Director and Head of the Ibrahimi Mosque, Sheikh Hafthi Abu Esnaina, condemned the incursions. He stressed that Israel is encouraging the Judaisation of Palestinian religious sites. "The Ibrahimi Mosque will always be a holy site for Muslims only," he insisted.
Palestinians in Hebron have expressed growing concern at the ongoing aggression of the Israeli authorities and illegal Jewish settlers.
Last month, Israel approved a new authority to provide municipal services to the illegal settlers in the city, prompting accusations that the state is trying to annex part of the occupied West Bank. A week before, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman upgraded the status of the settlers in Hebron, so that they would receive the same services provided to other West Bank settlements. The far-right politician also transferred jurisdiction over the area from the Palestinian Authority (PA) to the Israeli Interior Ministry.
Concerns have been raised at the behaviour of extremist Jewish settlers in the city for many years; they act with impunity from prosecution and their aggression is approved by the occupation authorities. Last month, the Israeli Supreme Court sided with a settler claim of ownership and evicted the Shamasna family from their home of over 50 years.
In August, Israeli NGO Rabbis for Human Rights petitioned a court against Hebrew signs being put up around the city by the self-proclaimed "Committee for the Renewal of the Jewish Community of Hebron". The NGO warned that the group is eliminating Palestinian heritage.
The Israeli settler community was angered in July following the UNESCO declaration that the Old City of Hebron is a Palestinian World Heritage Site endangered by Israel. In response, Israel has pledged to cut its funding to the UN. Right-wing settlers have urged the Israeli government to remain defiant in the face of the UNESCO resolution.