Israeli Forces Raid Al-Aqsa Mosque Once Again During Ramadan
The attack on worshippers happened overnight on Wednesday, during the holy month of Ramadan.
Palestinians were partaking in Itikaf, a non-mandatory religious practice that is common in Ramadan where worshippers stay inside mosques overnight to pray, reflect and recite the Quran. This is not allowed by Israeli authorities outside of the last ten days of Ramadan.
The raids began as Israeli police started forcibly removing those seated in the courtyards of Al-Aqsa Mosque, while others locked themselves inside the Al-Qibli Prayer Hall to evade the Israeli crackdown.
Around an hour later, Israeli police broke the windows of the Al-Qibli mosque and fired tear gas and stun grenades at worshippers to force them out. Police managed to break into the mosque and started assaulting worshippers.
The raids continued into the morning of Thursday when Israeli forces were once again seen assaulting and pushing Palestinians out of the compound and preventing them from praying. Then Israelis were allowed in under police protection.
Around 400 Palestinians were arrested on Wednesday and remain in Israeli custody, according to Palestinian officials. Other sources talk about 350 to 500 Palestinians arrested. The Commission for Palestinian Prisoners Affairs has informed that Israeli police began to release some detainees on the condition that they be removed from Al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem’s Old City for a week.
Journalists, local media and other Palestinians in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound have denounced how Israeli forces used excessive force with stun grenades and tear gas, causing injuries to the worshippers, and beatings with batons and rifles.
The Palestinian Red Crescent reported that three of the injured people were transferred to a hospital and stated that Israeli forces prevented its doctors from reaching Al-Aqsa.
Israeli police said in a statement that they were forced to enter the compound after “masked agitators” locked themselves inside the mosque with fireworks, sticks and stones. After the raid Israeli forces closed the Old City and Al-Aqsa. The mosque was briefly reopened for dawn prayer at around 5 am local time but police denied access to anyone under the age of 40.
Attacks on Muslim worshippers in Al-Aqsa by Israeli forces or settlers are common. Tensions have always been present in this sanctuary located in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem since it was occupied in 1967 by Israel. The whole occupied city of Jerusalem was annexed by Israel in 1980, in an internationally unrecognised and illegal move because an occupying power has no sovereignty in the territory it occupies and cannot make any permanent changes there.
During the past months, tensions have intensified and some people like Al Jazeera’s Natasha Ghoneim describe the attacks as being anticipated. There were several Jews expected to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound during routine visiting hours of non-Muslims.
“People who usually visit are nationalists with very conservative ideology and although the Jews are not allowed to pray inside the compound, their mere presence is a sensitive topic,” Ghoneim reported from occupied East Jerusalem.
In the same line, Najeh Bkeirat, the deputy director of the Islamic Waqf at Al-Aqsa Mosque, described the violent raid in an interview with Al Jazeera as a premeditated attack. He said the police wanted to send a message to the Palestinians that Israel is the sole sovereign over Al-Aqsa that can decide who can enter the site and when.
Israeli authorities have been removing worshippers from Al-Aqsa Mosque every night since the start of Ramadan after the Taraweeh prayer ends around 9 pm local time. They have also been restricting who can enter the site and when.
Israeli forces regularly empty the mosque of Palestinians outside the five Muslim prayers, especially overnight and after dawn prayer to ensure a smooth incursion of Israeli settlers which takes place daily around 7:30 am local time.
Al-Aqsaa is one of the third-holiest shrines in Islam and is seen by Palestinians as one of the few national symbols over which they have some control. Nevertheless, they are worried it could turn into a synagogue as it happened to the Ibrahimi Mosque (Cave of the Patriarchs) in Hebron.
Palestinians are also worried since far-right Israeli movements have repeatedly stated their desire to demolish the Islamic structures in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and build a Jewish temple in their place. For example, there are the Temple Movement groups, which facilitate the settler incursions and advocate for the destruction of Al-Aqsa. As MEE has picked up, they have called for mass stormings throughout the week-long Passover holiday which starts on Wednesday.
Rockets send to Gaza
The assault of worshippers in Al-Aqsa, especially during the month of Ramadan, has sparked deadly cross-border wars between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers in the past, the last being one in 2021.
Back in May 2021, hundreds of Palestinians were injured after Israeli forces stormed the compound and attacked worshippers during Ramadan with tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets and stun grenades. Additionally, there were incursions in the occupied East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. It all sparked a war between Israel and Gaza killing 256 Palestinians in Gaza (66 of which were children) and 13 people in Israel.
In 2022, there were other attacks on Palestinian worshippers that wounded 170 Palestinians. More than 300 were arrested during Israeli raids on the mosque.
This year, after the violence at Al-Aqsa, several rockets were fired from northern Gaza towards Israel. However, the Israeli army said that the majority were intercepted by the aerial defence system and others had fallen in uninhabited areas.
Israeli planes attacked multiple sites in Gaza, striking targets at a “military site” west of the city and a site in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the centre of the strip, according to Al Jazeera’s Maram Humaid in Gaza. It is reported that there were no casualties from either side.