Tensions are high in and around Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem with dozens of Israeli settlers storming through its courtyards on the occasion of the Jewish New Year holiday, Anadolu has reported. Eyewitnesses told the news agency that many Israeli police officers were deployed in the courtyards and on the roof of the Qibli prayer hall and apparently allowed dozens of illegal settlers to storm the mosque through the Mughrabi Gate.
Right-wing Israeli groups had called for large-scale attacks on Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Rosh Hashanah holiday, which starts today. Palestinian organisations and activists called on the people to head to the mosque yesterday, today and tomorrow. The cry of "God is Great" echoed around the courtyards in response to the settler provocation.
Local reports say that the police attacked Muslim worshippers and forced them to leave. Dozens of young Palestinians performed the dawn prayer at the mosque's outer gates, since when the police have restricted their entry into the mosque.
At least five Palestinians have been arrested, and clashes have taken place between Palestinian youths and the police officers in the Bab Al-Asbat and Bab Al-Amud areas of the Old City.
"Our crews treated two injuries at Bab Al-Asbat in Jerusalem," said the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. "One was a pepper gas injury and the other a beating."
The Israeli police force issued its own statement: "Under the leadership of the Jerusalem Brigade commander, the police continue to focus on the Old City area as part of the intensive preparations for Rosh Hashanah. Last night, a number of young men barricaded themselves in the mosque, and in the morning, with the start of the [settler] visits, they began firing fireworks from time to time." Two men, it added, were arrested for "throwing stones" at the police forces.
The police claim that the status quo has to be maintained on the "Temple Mount", so that "Muslim prayers and visits to the site by Jewish worshippers and tourists" can continue.
The Palestinian Authority condemned the Israeli forces and settlers' storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque courtyards. "The storming of the mosque by the occupation police and settlers falls within the framework of Israeli escalation against our people, their land and their holy sites," said PA spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh in a statement published by the official Palestinian news agency Wafa. "We warn that the continuation of these practices will lead to an explosion of the situation and more tension and violence."
Abu Rudeineh added that he holds the Israeli government fully responsible for "this dangerous escalation and its repercussions."