Israeli forces brutally assaulted dozens of Palestinian worshippers inside Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem on Tuesday night and forcibly removed them from the site where they were peacefully observing the holy month of Ramadan.
Dozens of heavily armed officers stormed the site, used stun grenades and fired tear gas into the Qibli prayer hall – the building with the silver dome – where hundreds of men, women, elderly people and children were staying overnight to pray. Some eyewitnesses said rubber-coated steel bullets were also fired.
Israeli officers then beat worshippers with batons and riot guns, wounding many, before arresting them. Their conditions were not immediately made clear.
Videos from inside the mosque showed Israeli officers repeatedly hitting people with batons while they appeared to lie on the floor. Meanwhile, the cries for help from women and children could be heard in the background.
The Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said it received multiple reports of injuries at Al-Aqsa Mosque but was unable to estimate the number of casualties as Israeli forces blocked medics from reaching the wounded. One medic was attacked by an Israeli police officer and wounded outside one of the mosque’s gates.
A PRCS spokesperson said they were informed that those wounded in the raid have been evacuated but they don’t know by who and where they were taken.
Local media said dozens were wounded in the assault and the injuries have included bruises, fractures and breathlessness from inhaling tear gas. Some videos from the scene published online showed people apparently unconscious.
A female eyewitness told local media that women were let out but the men were harshly beaten and arrested.
“Every single one of them was harshly beaten. Every single man,” she said.
Israeli police released a statement saying it detained dozens of “rioters” from Al-Aqsa Mosque to restore order at the site. The Palestinian Commission of Detainees’ Affairs estimates that between 400-500 men have been arrested.
After the raid, local mosques around Jerusalem called on people through speaker phones to rally in support of those assaulted.
Confrontations between residents and police broke out in several locations across the city.
A resident of the Old City, who preferred not to give a name, told Middle East Eye that the sound of screams during the raid could be heard everywhere.
“Jerusalem is on fire right now. You can hear the sound of grenades everywhere,” he said. “We can hear ambulances all over the city, the situation is not reassuring.”
In the occupied West Bank, hundreds of Palestinians took to the streets to condemn the assault and confront Israeli troops at checkpoints and army posts. Rallies also took place in Gaza, Umm al-Fahm (a Palestinian town in Israel) and the Jordanian capital Amman.
Rockets were later fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel. At least one rocket landed inside the country and caused damage to a food factory, according to Israeli media.
This was followed by air strikes from the Israeli military targeting several locations in the besieged strip. No casualties were recorded from either side.
Shootings at Israeli targets in the wake of the raid were also reported overnight in Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarm, Hebron, Ramallah and Jericho, leading to some armed clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops. One Israeli soldier was wounded in a fire exchange in Hebron and transferred to a hospital for treatment, Israeli media outlets reported.
Israeli forces closed the Old City and Al-Aqsa after the raid. The mosque was briefly reopened for dawn prayer at around 5 am local time but police denied access to anyone under the age of 40.
After dawn prayer, Israeli forces once again dispersed worshippers and forced them out of the mosque to pave the way for settler incursions that began at around 7am.
‘All they had were prayer mats’
The initial raid started around 10pm on Tuesday when police officers were first spotted entering Al-Aqsa.
They began by removing people from the courtyards of the mosque. Dozens of worshippers had stayed there to practise Itikaf after tens of thousands attended the earlier Taraweeh night prayer.
Itikaf is a non-mandatory religious practice that is common in Ramadan whereby worshippers stay inside mosques overnight to pray, reflect and recite the Quran.
While those seated in the courtyards were being removed, dozens of other worshippers locked themselves inside the Qibli prayer hall to evade the Israeli crackdown.
Around an hour later, Israeli police broke the windows of the Qibli mosque and fired tear gas and stun grenades at worshippers to force them out while the power inside the building was out. They then managed to break into the mosque and started assaulting worshippers.
Najeh Bkeirat, the deputy director of the Islamic Waqf at Al-Aqsa Mosque, described the violent raid in an interview with Al Jazeera as a premeditated attack.
He said police carried it out in the manner they did to send a message to the Palestinians that Israel is the sole sovereign over Al-Aqsa that can decide who can enter the site and when.
“What were the people inside doing other than praying? All they had were prayer mats,” he said.
The raid was widely condemned by Palestinians.
Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of the Hamas movement, said in a statement: “What is happening in Al-Aqsa Mosque is an unprecedented crime. Everyone must bear their responsibility, Palestinians and Muslims alike.”
He urged Palestinians in the West Bank and in Israel to march to Al-Aqsa Mosque and “protect it”.
Ziyad Nakhla, the leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, echoed a similar message.
“The events at Al-Aqsa Mosque are a threat to our sacred places of worship and the Palestinian people must be prepared for the imminent decisive confrontation [with Israel],” he said in a statement.
The Fatah movement said what happened was “dangerous” and warned that the Israel occupation “will pay the price”.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, the presidential spokesperson of the Palestinian Authority, said Israeli forces “crossed the red lines”.
“What the occupation is doing right now at holy sites such as in Al-Aqsa, and the attacking of worshippers is an example of the relentless war against Palestinian people and Arab nations, which will ignite fires across the region,” Abu Rudeineh said.
Israeli authorities have been removing worshippers from Al-Aqsa Mosque every night since the start of Ramadan after the Taraweeh prayer ends around 9pm local time, albeit without this widespread use of violence.
They have also been restricting who can enter the site and when, in what Palestinians say is an infringement on their freedom of religious practice.
Itikaf at Al-Aqsa Mosque is not allowed by Israeli authorities outside of the last ten days of Ramadan, a ban that Palestinians refuse to comply with.
Israeli forces regularly empty the mosque of Palestinians outside the five Muslim prayers, especially overnight and after dawn prayer to ensure a smooth incursion of Israeli settlers which takes place daily around 7:30 am local time.
Temple Movement groups, which facilitate the settler incursions and advocate for the destruction of Al-Aqsa, have called for mass stormings throughout the week-long Passover holiday which starts on Wednesday.
They have also called for conducting ritual animal slaughter at the site which could trigger anger from Palestinians and Muslims worldwide.
Palestinian groups have urged mass presence at the site this week to prevent the planned animal slaughter and mass incursions.
Al-Aqsa Mosque is an Islamic site where unsolicited visits, prayers and rituals by non-Muslims are forbidden according to decades-long international agreements.
Israeli groups, in coordination with authorities, have long violated the delicate arrangement and facilitated raids of the site and performed prayers and religious rituals.
Source : Middle East Eye