The al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, considered one of Islam’s holiest sites, was raided by Israeli police for the second time on Wednesday. This came after they had earlier arrested hundreds of Palestinians, despite condemnations from the Arab and Muslim world. The clashes occurred as worshipers offered prayers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and Jews celebrated Passover. In response, militants in Gaza launched retaliatory rocket fire.
Footage shared on social media showed Israeli officers striking screaming people with batons inside the darkened building during the first incident. Witnesses reported that the police had smashed doors and windows to enter the mosque and deployed stun grenades and rubber bullets once inside. Israeli police, on the other hand, claimed that they entered al-Aqsa after “hundreds of rioters and mosque desecrators had barricaded themselves” inside. According to the police statement, “when the police entered, stones were thrown at them, and fireworks were fired from inside the mosque by a large group of agitators.”
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The use of force by Israeli police and the raids on the mosque have led to heightened tensions in the region, and the rocket fire from Gaza has resulted in Israeli airstrikes. The situation remains volatile, and there are concerns that the violence could escalate further.
Clashes leave 12 injured
According to the Palestinian Red Crescent in Jerusalem, clashes in and around the al-Aqsa mosque resulted in at least 12 injuries, with three of the injured transferred to hospital due to injuries from rubber bullets. The organisation also reported that its ambulances were targeted by police and prevented from reaching the injured.
Israeli police stated that they had arrested and removed over 350 people from the mosque, and two police officers were injured during the clashes. Images circulated on social media showed detained individuals lying face down on the floor of the mosque with their arms and legs bound, while others were seen with their hands tied being led into a vehicle.
In a second incident that evening, Israeli armed forces deployed stun grenades and ordered Muslim worshipers to leave immediately. The Israeli police claimed that dozens of “law-breaking juveniles, some of them masked” had thrown fireworks and stones into the mosque and attempted to barricade themselves inside. The police stated that they prevented the lawbreakers from closing the doors and barricading themselves inside while assisting worshipers in leaving the mosque.
The Palestinian Red Crescent in Jerusalem treated six people for their injuries, and two of them were transferred to a hospital for further medical attention.
Arab and Muslim world condemns Israeli attack
On Wednesday morning, the actions of Israeli police drew condemnation from across the Arab and Muslim world. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jordan strongly condemned the Israeli police actions and demanded the immediate removal of Israeli forces from the mosque. Jordan has also called for an extraordinary meeting of the Arab League to discuss the situation.
The Foreign Ministry in Egypt also condemned the police “storming” of the mosque, stating that it had caused numerous injuries to worshippers and was in violation of international laws and customs.
The US Office of Palestinian Affairs called for restraint in response to the raid, urging that violence has no place in a holy site or during a holy season. The office expressed alarm at the shocking scenes in the Al Aqsa Mosque and the rockets launched from Gaza towards Israel. It called for de-escalation and restraint to ensure peaceful worship and protect the sanctity of the holy sites.
Israel faces criticism and accusations of “Major Crime”
In the past two weeks, Jewish extremist groups have called for the slaughter of goats at the mosque compound as part of a Passover holiday ritual that is no longer practiced by most Jews. However, a greater number of Muslim worshippers remained in the mosque after calls were made to prevent these attempts.
Last week, a 26-year-old Palestinian man named Muhammad Al-Osaibi was shot and killed by Israeli police at the entrance of the compound. Palestinian and Israeli sources have disputed the circumstances surrounding the killing.
The mosque compound, which is frequently a source of tension, is home to one of Islam’s most revered sites as well as the holiest site in Judaism, known as the Temple Mount.
In a statement on Wednesday, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh condemned the actions of the Israeli police, calling it a major crime against worshippers. He added that Israel needs to learn from history that Al-Aqsa is for the Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims, and that storming it will spark a revolution against the occupation.
Aviv Bushinsky, a former media adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told CNN that situations affecting Israel’s security could unite a divided nation, but he doesn’t believe that was the motivation behind the storming of al-Aqsa mosque.
Bushinsky stated that it is in Netanyahu’s interests to ease tensions and that the average Israeli would not support extreme measures against Palestinians in Jerusalem, as that would be too risky.
He further added that Netanyahu and even Ben Gvir would try to ease the tension in the Al-Aqsa mosque as a rupture there would affect the entire Arab world, and Israel would feel it.
Hamas rockets prompt Israeli military strikes in Gaza
On Wednesday, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reported that approximately 12 rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel after the incident in Jerusalem. The IDF stated that two rockets were fired later in the day, while 10 were fired earlier. Five of the 10 rockets fell in open fields, and one fell on a factory in Sderot without causing any casualties, according to Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, the IDF spokesperson.
In a statement, Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, stated that “the current Israeli occupation’s crimes at the Al-Aqsa Mosque are unprecedented violations that will not pass.”
Later in the day, the Israeli military reported that it had conducted airstrikes on weapons manufacturing and storage sites in the Gaza Strip belonging to Hamas. The statement read, “This strike was carried out in response to rockets fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israeli territory earlier.”
On Wednesday, Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant warned that they would strike anyone who attempts to harm them, and that they would exact a heavy price for threatening Israeli citizens or IDF troops. The violence in the region has been escalating in recent years, with last year being the deadliest for both Palestinians and Israelis in almost two decades.
According to official statistics, at least 90 Palestinians have been killed this year, including suspected militants targeted by Israeli forces, as well as Palestinians who have killed, wounded or attempted to kill Israeli civilians, clashed with Israeli security, or were bystanders. At the same time, at least 15 Israelis have been killed in attacks by Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank, including 14 civilians and a police officer who was hit by friendly fire after being stabbed by a Palestinian teenager while inspecting bus passengers.