Israeli settlers break into al-Aqsa compound under police escort
Dozens of Israeli settlers broke into the Haram al-Sharif compound in the Old City of Jerusalem on Wednesday, escorted and protected by Israeli military police, local news agency Al-Quds reported.
Messianic Jews are hoping to establish an increased presence on the site of the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, among the most important Muslim shrines in the world and potent symbols of Palestinian nationalism.
In September, a total of 5,487 far-right Jewish settlers broke into the Haram al-Sharif compound, Al-Quds said.
"There is a perceptible increase both in the number of settlers raiding Al-Aqsa, as well as in the religious rituals that they conduct on the site,” Khalid Zabarqa, a lawyer and expert on Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa, told Middle East Eye. “They grow increasingly audacious.”
Palestinian worshippers who did not give the settlers a wide berth were detained for hours, Zabarqa said.
According to local media, Israeli police also barred three employees of the Islamic Waqf - two guards and a cleaner - from entering Al-Aqsa mosque on Wednesday while the group of Israelis were inside the compound. The employees were also handed letters to show up at an Israeli police station, local media reported.
The Islamic Waqf, a religious authority, manages the mosque and the other sites in the Haram al-Sharif area.
Translation: The occupation bars two of Al-Aqsa mosque's guards Khalil Tarhoony and Ahmed Abu 'Alia and the cleaner Khamis 'Attiah from entering the compound and hand them investigation notices.
In September, as Jewish-Israeli citizens across the country celebrated the holiday of Sukkot, Israeli security forces facilitated the entry of far-right Jewish groups - including some who hope for a new messianic Jewish age - to the Muslim holy sites.
Police also restricted the movement of local Palestinians, retaining their identity documents at the compound entrance.
Israeli forces erected barricades around the compound and throughout the Old City at the time, giving it the feel of “a military barracks”, local media reported.
Far-right activists aim to boost presence at holy site
Videos uploaded to social media showed activists belonging to the far-right Templar movement prostrating themselves in prayer on the Al-Aqsa compound and singing the Israeli national anthem, provocations that are in violation of the site rules.
The Templar movement aims to replace the Muslim structures in the Old City with a Jewish temple, in the fashion of the Roman tabernacle that stood on the spot of the Dome of the Rock about 2,000 years ago.
In recent weeks, posters have been plastered throughout ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbourhoods of Jerusalem, extolling religious residents to ascend to the Haram al-Sharif, or Temple Mount, over the Jewish holidays.
Traditionally, ultra-Orthodox Jews have steered clear of the site, holding that Jews may not approach the holy ground until a messiah emerges from amongst them.
The United Nations' partition plan of 1947 to divide Palestine into Jewish and Arab states determined that Jerusalem would remain an ex-territorial international city, but it was eventually split between Israel and Jordan in the bitter war that followed, with the Israelis controlling the west and the Jordanians the east.
Twenty years later, Israeli forces conquered the Haram al-Sharif, the rest of Jerusalem, and all the other territories which were resolved to be part of a Palestinian state.
Although under Israeli occupation in East Jerusalem, the Haram al-Sharif site is managed by the Islamic Waqf.
But far-right Jewish activists are attempting to cultivate support for an increased Jewish presence on the site.
Their far-right beliefs were once considered a small fringe movement, but in recent years, they have found favour in the administration of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, receiving the endorsement of many lawmakers.