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Clashes as Israeli police enter Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque

#Clashes #Israeli #police #enter #Jerusalems #AlAqsa #mosque

Clashes erupted inside the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem early Wednesday as Israeli police said they had entered to dislodge “agitators”, a move denounced as an “unprecedented crime” by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas.

Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, called on Palestinians in the West Bank “to go en masse to the Al-Aqsa mosque to defend it”.

Israeli police said they had entered the mosque to dislodge “agitators” who had barricaded themselves inside with fireworks, sticks and stones.

The mosque compound in the Israeli-annexed Old City of east Jerusalem has previously seen clashes and violence between Palestinians and Israelis, particularly during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which draws tens of thousands of worshippers to Al-Aqsa.

The holy Muslim site is built on top of what Jews call the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site.

The fresh violence comes nearly halfway through Ramadan and as Jews prepare to celebrate Passover from Wednesday evening.

Israeli police have released video footage showing what appear to be fireworks explosions inside the mosque and figures throwing rocks.

Another police video shows riot police with shields advancing through the mosque under a barrage of fireworks explosions.

The footage then shows a barricaded door and boxes of fireworks on the floor as well as police escorting at least five people outside with their hands cuffed behind their backs.

– Rockets fired –

Israeli police said they were forced to enter the mosque after “several law-breaking youths and masked agitators” with fireworks, sticks and stones barricaded themselves inside.

“These instigators fortified it, hours after the (last evening) Taraweeh prayer in order to disrupt public order and desecrate the mosque,” the police said in a statement.

“After many and prolonged attempts to get them out by talking to no avail, police forces were forced to enter the compound in order to get them out with the intentions to allow the Fajr (dawn) prayer and to prevent a violent disturbance,” police said.

“When the police entered, stones were thrown at them and fireworks were fired from inside the mosque by a large group of agitators,” police said, adding one officer was injured in the leg by a stone.

Police “detained the rioters” who “caused damage to the mosque and desecrated it”, the statement added, without specifying the number of people detained.

After the announcement of the clashes at Al-Aqsa, several rockets were fired from the northern Gaza Strip towards Israeli territory, according to AFP journalists and witnesses.

AFP journalists said they saw three rockets fired from afar and witnesses said they saw others, while the Israeli army reported rocket warning sirens had been triggered in several Israeli urban centres around the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli army said five rockets fired from the Gaza Strip were intercepted by the aerial defence system around Sderot in southern Israel and that four others had fallen in uninhabited areas.

In Gaza, dozens of demonstrators took to the streets overnight, burning tyres. 

“We swear to defend and protect the Al-Aqsa mosque,” they said.

Egypt condemned the Israeli police’s “storming” of the Al-Aqsa mosque and “the accompanying blatant attacks” on worshippers.

“Egypt holds Israel, the occupying power, responsible for this dangerous escalation which could undermine the truce efforts in which Egypt is engaged with its regional and international partners,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been sucked into a spiral of violence since the start of the year after one of the most right-wing governments in Israel’s history took office at the end of December.

The conflict has claimed the lives of at least 91 Palestinians, 15 Israelis and one Ukrainian since January, according to an AFP tally based on official sources from both sides.

On the Palestinian side, the figures include combatants as well as civilians. On the Israeli side, they include two members of the Arab minority.

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