Al-Aqsa: Settlers storm mosque and raise Israeli flags
Over 770 Israeli settlers, accompanied by security officers, broke into the Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem on Monday morning and again in the afternoon, local media reported.
They entered through the Moroccan Gate on the western side of the site, which the Israeli authorities have controlled since the beginning of the occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967.
A settler raised an Israeli flag in the area outside Al-Aqsa Mosque, while Israeli police restricted Palestinians from entering the compound during the settlers' tour. One Palestinian man was arrested when he attempted to obstruct the settlers' tour by praying in their path.
Jerusalem's Islamic Waqf has repeatedly described the settlers' tours as "provocative" and said that Palestinian worshippers and guards at al-Aqsa Mosque feel uncomfortable with the presence of Israeli police and settlers touring the Muslim holy site.
Israeli far-right activists have repeatedly pushed for an increased Jewish presence at al-Aqsa, despite a longstanding joint guardianship agreement between Israel and Jordan.
Some right-wing Israeli activists have advocated for the destruction of the al-Aqsa Mosque compound to make way for a Third Temple. But others want to seize the eastern area of the al-Aqsa compound, known as al-Rahmeh Gate, to turn it into an exclusive Jewish praying site, accessed by an ancient gate in the eastern wall of the Old City.
Palestinian Muslims and Christians do not seek to pray in the Western Wall Plaza, the holiest site in Judaism to the east of al-Aqsa Mosque. Their access to the site, however, has to go through a strict security check.
Azzam al-Khatib, the general director of Islamic Waqf in Jerusalem, said that Israeli police turned al-Aqsa Mosque into "a military barracks" on Monday and that settler numbers breaking into the compound had surged in recent weeks.
Khatib said these tours were "unacceptable" and that al-Aqsa "is a mosque for Muslims that could not be partitioned or shared".
'[al-Aqsa] is a mosque for Muslims that could not be partitioned or shared'
- Azzam al-Khatib, Islamic Waqf in Jerusalem
On Sunday, almost 1,000 Israeli settlers entered al-Aqsa Mosque.
Radwan Amr, the head of the manuscripts department in al-Aqsa, said that Monday's events pointed to "a dangerous development, that settlers raised the flag of the occupation inside al-Aqsa Mosque, while in place were the restrictions imposed on worshippers and barring them from praying in al-Aqsa's yards during the settlers' tour".
Israeli settler groups regularly enter the al-Aqsa Mosque compound - which they refer to as the Temple Mount - during religious holidays. They are currently celebrating the Sukkot, which ends on Monday.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem during the 1967 Middle East War. It annexed the entire city in 1980, in a move unrecognised by the vast majority of the international community.
The Old City of Jerusalem and the al-Aqsa compound remain the most sensitive components of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.