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Israeli forces beat and detain Palestinians in al-Aqsa prayer hall

Images of Palestinian youths tied up and forced to lie face down on the floor cause uproar
Israeli police seen standing over Palestinian detainees in al-Aqsa Mosque's prayer hall (Social media)

Israeli forces beat and bound Palestinian worshippers in a rare storming of the main prayer hall inside Jerusalem's al-Aqsa Mosque, forcing them to lie face down in a row in one of Islam's holiest sites.

Images of Palestinians tied up and lying prone on al-Aqsa's carpeted prayer hall during the second Friday of Ramadan quickly caused uproar. Some footage circulated online showed Israeli forces beating the detainees.

Hundreds of Palestinian worshippers gathered at al-Aqsa in occupied East Jerusalem's Old City before dawn on Friday morning for prayers, before Israeli police moved in to violently disperse them at around 5.30 am.

For four hours, Israeli forces used baton rounds and tear gas to clear the mosque's courtyards. Police were seen beating journalists and women.

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The Palestinian Red Crescent said 152 people were evacuated from the mosque and transferred to nearby hospitals, including many with upper-body wounds. East Jerusalem's al-Makassed hospital said it had received 40 wounded people from al-Aqsa, two with critical injuries. 

The scenes recalled the violence around al-Aqsa that preceded the deadly violence in May that saw days of Israeli bombing in Gaza and rioting in mixed Palestinian-Israeli cities.

Dozens of young Palestinians with rocks barricaded themselves inside the Qibli prayer hall, a 1,000-year-old domed building from where congregational prayers are led.

The Israelis fired teargas into the hall, smashed some of its windows and arrested around 80 people.

Though Israel has repeatedly raided al-Aqsa and shot stun grenades and teargas into the Qibli hall, it is very rare for its forces to enter the building, particularly in great numbers.

Video footage showed the police firing directly at Palestinians, who hid behind pillars.

Mansour Abbas, leader of the Raam party representing Palestinian citizens of Israel, said the violent raid on the mosque could force his party to leave Israel's fragile governing coalition.

"The continued damage to al-Aqsa Mosque is a red line for us, also regarding the stability of the coalition," he said. "There are no political considerations when it comes to al-Aqsa."

Far-right nationalists have been threatening to sacrifice a goat and perform prayers in al-Aqsa on Friday to observe Passover. Jewish prayer in the mosque is forbidden under the status quo agreed following Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.

Israeli authorities have said they will stop any sacrifices being held at al-Aqsa, but Palestinians stayed in the mosque in large numbers overnight in anticipation of ultranationalist attempts to slaughter animals at the site.

Omer Bar-Lev, Israeli public security minister, said the officers acted "bravely" in "complex circumstances".

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