Al-Aqsa: Israeli forces push out Palestinians as settlers storm mosque for third day running
Israeli forces raided al-Aqsa Mosque early on Tuesday for the third day running and the fourth time in a week, clearing out Palestinian worshippers to allow entry for Israeli settlers marking the Jewish festival of Passover.
Large numbers of officers were deployed in the courtyards of the mosque's complex, forcing out Palestinians and closing the doors of the prayer halls with people locked inside them for hours.
Israeli forces fired teargas towards the main Qibli prayer hall and forcefully cleared out women from its surrounding area to secure the way for settlers to come in.
Guarded by the heavily armed officers, several groups of around 40 settlers then stormed al-Aqsa through the Mughrabi Gate, toured the courtyards and performed prayers on the eastern side of the complex.
Footage published by local media showed a settler saying an insult to the mother of a Palestinian woman who was chanting religious slogans with a group of people protesting the raid.
Translation: During settler raids in al-Aqsa today... a settler insults the mother of one of the women in al-Aqsa in front of the cameras.
Worshippers who managed to stay in the mosque's courtyards continuously chanted national slogans, as did those locked in prayer halls, who banged on the walls to show their objection to the raids.
Palestinians say these raids are an attempt to change the reality of al-Aqsa Mosque and divide it between Muslims and Jews, similar to how the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron was divided in the 1990s.
Umm Kamel el-Kurd, a veteran Jerusalem activist who was in al-Aqsa during a similar raid on Sunday, said there has been a notable escalation in the manner and size of Israeli raids.
"The violations and injustice has reached new levels. What is happening is a catastrophe, it's unacceptable," el-Kurd, who is also known as Hajja Fawzia, told MEE. "This is a clear violation of religious rights and sanctities."
The Waqf, joint Jordanian-Palestinian Islamic trust that manages the affairs of the mosque, said a total of 622 settlers entered al-Aqsa in today's raid which lasted between 7am local time and 10:30am.
Far-right Israeli activists and settler groups had announced plans to storm al-Aqsa this week in large numbers, starting from Sunday, to mark Passover.
On Sunday, 545 settlers stormed the mosque and 561 more entered on Monday, according to the Waqf.
Before dawn on Sunday, Israeli forces set up checkpoints around the Old City in Jerusalem and the roads leading to the gates of al-Aqsa Mosque. Palestinians were prevented from entering the mosque to perform dawn prayers, and some were attacked by Israeli forces near Yusufiya cemetery, a few metres away from al-Aqsa.
Tuesday's attack marks the fourth storming by Israeli forces of al-Aqsa Mosque since the start of the holy month of Ramadan on 2 April. Hundreds of Palestinians have been arrested and wounded in the violent crackdowns, including medics and journalists.
Attack on Gaza
Also on Tuesday morning, Israeli jets attacked the southern Gaza Strip after intercepting a rocket fired from the Palestinian enclave into Israel.
The Israeli military said it destroyed an arms manufacturing workshop belonging to Hamas. The movement said it had responded with anti-aircraft weapons but did not hit the Israeli jets. No injuries from the raid were reported.
"Congratulations to the men of the resistance who confronted the fighter jets with our anti-aircraft defence," Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said in a statement, claiming the Israeli raid hit "empty sites".
No Palestinian faction claimed responsibility for the rocket fire, the first attack into Israel in months, which was intercepted by the Israeli Iron Dome air defence.
Israel's "strike of empty targets is a failed attempt to stop the Palestinian people from protecting Jerusalem and al-Aqsa Mosque," Qassem said.
In the past month, violence has spiked in Israel and Palestine. Five attacks inside Israel by Palestinians have killed 14 people, while the Israeli army increased its near-daily arrest raids and other military operations in the occupied West Bank, killing 19 Palestinians in April alone.
At least 48 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the year.
On Monday, a 19-year-old Palestinian died from gunshot wounds she sustained during an Israeli raid in Jenin earlier this month.