Israeli Police Crackdown At Al-Aqsa Raises Tensions
By Arab News
By Mohammed Najib
Tensions were rising in the Palestinian territories on Wednesday after Israeli police stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque at dawn, severely beating and arresting dozens of worshippers.
Officers reportedly injured about 50 people, destroyed Al-Aqsa Medical Clinic, prevented ambulances from reaching the location to help the injured, and smashed windows and doors at the mosque.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said its teams in Jerusalem dealt with 12 injuries during clashes near the mosque and outside the city walls. Three people were taken to hospital, and 25 people with injuries were arrested and later freed from Israeli detention centers.
Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem is the third-holiest site in Islam, after the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah. Taraweeh prayers are offered there by large numbers of people during Ramadan. However, they face interference from the Israeli military and police.
In another provocative move, there have been calls by Jewish extremist groups to slaughter goats at the compound as part of the Passover feast that began on Wednesday evening. As a result, many Muslim worshippers remained in the mosque on Tuesday night to pray and to prevent the settlers from following through with their plans.
Israeli authorities decided to completely close the Palestinian Territories until Saturday midnight due to the Passover holiday, so Muslim worshippers remained at the mosque because they would have been unable to return to protect it or pray during those days.
On Wednesday, Israeli police arrested two settlers who intended to enter the mosque’s courtyards to offer a sacrifice for Passover.
Israeli police said they removed more than 350 people from the mosque. They added that they had arrested masked individuals, stone-throwers and individuals suspected of desecrating the mosque.
“We will continue to act against anyone who attempts to violate public order,” the police said.
Jordan, which has custodianship over Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, called on Israeli authorities to immediately remove the police and special forces from the holy site.
Sinan Al-Majali, the spokesperson for Jordan’s Foreign Ministry, described the crackdown as a “flagrant violation” and urged Israel to abide by international humanitarian law and refrain from all measures aimed at changing the historical status quo.
He warned of the potential consequences of the dangerous escalation and held Israel responsible for the safety of the mosque and worshippers.
The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Kingdom condemned this “blatant intrusion,” and expressed its “categorical rejection of these practices that undermine peace efforts and contradict international principles and norms in respect of religious sanctities.”
It reaffirmed the Kingdom’s firm stance on supporting all efforts to end the occupation and reach a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian issue.
The Islamic Awqaf Department in Jerusalem, which belongs to Jordan, said Israeli police deliberately smashed windows and doors at the mosque in a blatant violation of the site’s sanctity, and appealed to Jordan’s King Abdullah to ensure that such attacks and incursions end.
Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas political bureau, said that what was happening at the mosque was an “unprecedented crime” that will have consequences.
The Jewish holidays this month coincide with Ramadan, which has caused tensions to rise as thousands of Muslims flock to Al-Aqsa where they face harassment, while Israeli police forces allow dozens of settlers to enter the compound and perform their rituals.
An added complication this time, however, is the presence of extreme right-wing ministers in the recently formed Israeli government, including Itamar Ben-Gvir, the minister of national security, who declared a few days ago that Al-Aqsa Mosque belonged to Jews, not Muslims.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said what is happening in Jerusalem is a “major crime against the worshippers,” and a process of “Judaization” of Al-Aqsa Mosque is taking place by preventing Muslims from praying in it.
He added that praying at the mosque does not need “permission from the occupation, but rather it is our right.” He said the Israelis have failed to learn from history, given that when they stormed Al-Aqsa in the past it sparked a revolution against the occupation.
The Palestinian presidency said that crossing red lines at holy places would lead to a major escalation.
Kuwait, Iran, Egypt, the Arab League, Qatar, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Turkiye also condemned Israel’s crackdown.
Ahmad Ghuneim, a prominent Fatah leader from East Jerusalem, told Arab News that he believes the aim of the brutal Israeli actions is to remove Muslim worshippers so that they cannot confront Israeli settlers who enter Al-Aqsa during the Jewish Passover.
Tor Wennesland, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said he was appalled by the images of violence inside the mosque.
“I am disturbed by the apparent beating of Palestinians by Israeli security forces and a large number of arrests,” he added.
“The historical status quo of the holy sites must be upheld, in line with the special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The role of the Waqf is vital and it must be empowered to fulfill its crucial duties.”