Skip to main content

Hundreds of Israelis raid Al-Aqsa as Palestinians blocked from site

Jordan condemns incursions and blames Israel for a potential escalation
Hundreds of Israelis stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem on 9 April 2023 (MEE/Latifeh Abdellatif)

Hundreds of Israeli settlers and ultranationalists stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem on Sunday, as Palestinians were blocked from accessing the site. 

Protected by dozens of heavily-armed police officers, large groups of Israelis toured the courtyards of Al-Aqsa starting from 7:30am local time to mark the Jewish holiday of Passover. 

Meanwhile, Israeli forces assaulted Palestinians trying to reach the site overnight to perform the dawn prayer and denied access to worshippers under the age of 40.

They also cleared the Old City, where Al-Aqsa Mosque is located, in preparation for the mass Israeli incursions. 

Only 30,000 Palestinians managed to attend the Ramadan Taraweeh night prayer on Saturday, a drop from as many as 130,000 who attended previous nights this month, according to local estimates. 

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


Hundreds of worshippers locked themselves in the Qibli prayer hall - the building with the silver dome - on Saturday night, to avoid Israeli attempts to remove them from the mosque. 

It comes after Israeli forces repeatedly assaulted worshippers inside the Qibli mosque last week to remove them from the site, sparking international condemnation

Jordan, the custodian of Islamic and Christian sites in Jerusalem, denounced the raids on Sunday and blamed Israel for the consequences. 

"We condemn the massive incursions into the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque under the tight protection of the Israeli occupation police, which constitutes a breach of the existing historical and legal status quo agreements in Al-Aqsa and a violation of the sanctity of the holy places," the Jordanian foreign minister said in a statement. 

"The Israeli government bears the responsibility for the escalation in Jerusalem and the occupied territories if it does not stop storming Al-Aqsa Mosque and restricting worshippers."

Palestinian women recite the Quran in the courtyards of Al-Aqsa Mosque while Israeli police secure incursions by ultranationalists on 9 April 2023 (MEE/Latifeh Abdellatif)
Palestinian women recite the Quran in the courtyards of Al-Aqsa Mosque while Israeli police secure incursions by ultranationalists on 9 April 2023 (MEE/Latifeh Abdellatif)

Israeli forces regularly empty Al-Aqsa Mosque - known to Jews as the Temple Mount - of Palestinians outside the five Muslim prayer times, especially overnight and after the dawn prayer, to ensure a smooth incursion of Israeli settlers. 

Temple Movement groups, which facilitate the incursions and advocate for the destruction of Al-Aqsa, have called for mass stormings throughout the week-long Passover holiday which started on Wednesday and ends on Thursday. 

According to decades-long international agreements, known as the status quo, Al-Aqsa Mosque is an Islamic site where unsolicited visits, prayers and rituals by non-Muslims are forbidden.

Al-Aqsa Mosque: Israeli raids and incursions explained
Read More »

Israeli groups, in coordination with authorities, have long violated the delicate arrangement and facilitated daily raids of the site and performed prayers and religious rituals without permission from Palestinians or Jordan. 

By allocating specific times for when Palestinians are allowed at Al-Aqsa Mosque, and opening the site for settlers to visit and pray, Palestinians fear the groundwork is being laid to divide the mosque between Muslims and Jews, similar to how the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron was divided in the 1990s.

Israel's control of East Jerusalem, including the Old City, violates several principles of international law, which stipulates that an occupying power has no sovereignty in the territory it occupies and cannot make any permanent changes there. 

As hundreds stormed the site on Sunday, thousands gathered at the Western Wall below it to mark the biannual "Birkat Kohanim" ceremony, also known as the Priestly Blessing. 

Increased tensions  

Israeli police were noticeably largely restrained against Palestinians inside Al-Aqsa Mosque on Saturday and Sunday morning, though they have maintained a large presence at the site. 

Their unusual conduct comes after their violent assaults on worshippers last week were filmed and widely shared online, sparking an uptick in violence. 

Rockets were launched from Gaza and Lebanon towards Israel on Thursday in an apparent response to the Al-Aqsa attacks. At least two Israelis were wounded. 

Shootings in the occupied West Bank also spiked, leaving two Israeli settlers killed and two soldiers wounded.

The Israeli military and police said they would bolster their forces amid the tensions, and extend West Bank closures until Wednesday. 

Palestinians from the West Bank who have permits to work in Israel or reach Al-Aqsa Mosque will be barred from entering. 

The Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant also ordered soldiers to be deployed inside Israel in the central district, to reinforce police work.

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.