Israeli settlers and police storm Jerusalem's al-Aqsa Mosque on Purim
Dozens of Israeli settlers stormed al-Aqsa compound in occupied East Jerusalem on Thursday morning to mark the Jewish holiday of Purim, local media reported.
Online footage from al-Aqsa Mosque shows dozens of Israeli settlers, one of them wearing a white monk dress, praying silently in al-Aqsa esplanade while escorted and protected by Israeli police.
Purim is a two-day Jewish holiday, which ends this year on Thursday evening.
Wafa news agency reported that almost 117 Israeli settlers, protected by Israeli special forces, had broken into al-Aqsa at 7am local time from the Moroccan Gate.
Israeli authorities restricted Palestinians' access to al-Aqsa on Thursday, especially those who came to protest the settlers' incursion into an Islamic holy site, and increased the security presence in the bazaars of Jerusalem's Old City.
Israeli police arrested Mohammed Izz Ghwariyeh, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, who travelled from Umm al-Fahm, a town 20km northwest of Jenin, to visit al-Aqsa. Wafa said that Ghwariyeh was among tens of Palestinians who entered the mosque compound in the early hours of Thursday to protest the settlers' presence.
Despite the Israeli entry restrictions to the site, Palestinians had also called for holding events in the mosque on Thursday.
The settlers' incursion comes ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, starting in early April, when thousands of Palestinians travel to Jerusalem to pray at al-Aqsa, the third holiest site in Islam.
Jerusalem's Islamic Waqf told Wafa that the Israeli presence in al-Aqsa compound on Thursday while they performed Jewish prayers near al-Rahmeh Gate and the Dome of the Rock Mosque was "provocative".
In recent years, the number of Jewish worshippers quietly praying on the site has increased. In October, an Israeli judge ruled that silent prayer by Jewish settlers at al-Aqsa compound was not a "criminal act."
On Wednesday, almost 198 Jewish settlers entered the site on the first day of Purim.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem, where al-Aqsa is located, during the 1967 Middle East war. It annexed the entire city in 1980, in a move never recognised by the international community.
Israeli far-right activists have repeatedly pushed for an increased Jewish presence at the site, despite a longstanding joint guardianship agreement between Israel and Jordan that bars non-Muslim prayer at the site.
Some right-wing Israeli activists have advocated for the destruction of the al-Aqsa Mosque to make way for a Third Temple.
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