Jerusalem: Israeli forces have closed all entrances to occupied East Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosquecomplex amid ongoing confrontation with Palestinian worshippers, a Palestinian official has said.
“Dozens of Israeli soldiers stormed the Al-Aqsa compound and assaulted several religious figures,” Firas al-Dibs, spokesperson for Jerusalem’s Religious Endowments Authority, a Jordan-run agency tasked with overseeing the city’s Muslim and Christian sites, said in a statement on Tuesday.
According to al-Dibs, Al-Aqsa Mosque’s Director Omar Kiswani and Sheikh Wasef al-Bakri, the acting supreme judge of Jerusalem’s Islamic Courts, were among those assaulted by Israeli police.
He said baton-wielding police attacked dozens of Muslim worshippers near the Al-Aqsa compound’s Dome of the Rock.
“At least five Palestinians were arrested before being taken into custody for further investigation,” al-Dibs said.
According to Israeli police, “a Molotov cocktail was thrown towards a police building inside the compound itself and that facility started to burn,” Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett reported from occupied East Jerusalem.
“We’ve heard from Palestinian sources inside saying that it may instead have been a firework. What took place afterwards was some fairly obvious scuffling going on between Israeli security sources and Palestinian worshippers,” Fawcett said, adding that gates into the Old City have also closed.
The Palestinian presidency has condemned the reported escalation at the flashpoint religious site.
According to a statement published by Palestine’s WAFA news agency, President Mahmoud Abbas is maintaining “intensive contacts” with all relevant parties in hopes of defusing the situation.
He also called on the international community to intervene, accusing Israeli police and settlers of “consistently violating the sanctity of the mosque and provoking the sentiments of Muslims”.
Tension has mounted in occupied East Jerusalem since last month, when Israeli police briefly sealed the Al-Aqsa compound’s Al-Rahma Gate, located adjacent to the eastern wall of the Old City, sparking Palestinian demonstrations.
In the weeks since, the Israeli authorities have banned dozens of Palestinians, including religious officials, from entering Al-Aqsa, which for Muslims represents the world’s third holiest site.
“What was already a tense situation following a three-week battle over this area within the Al Aqsa Mosque compound has now come more to a head with this latest incident. The entire site remains closed,” said Fawcett.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem, where the Al-Aqsa compound is located, during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. It annexed the entire city in 1980 in a move that has not been recognised by the international community.
Meanwhile, a Palestinian man has been shot and killed by Israeli forces following an alleged knife attack in occupied West Bank, the Israeli army said in a statement. No injuries were reported.
According to the army, the suspect was injured after allegedly trying to stab an Israeli soldier near the Jewish-only illegal settlement of Kiryat Arba located in Hebron.
The army identified the slain Palestinian as Yasser Fawzi Shawki from Hebron. Witnesses said the soldiers dragged the suspect’s body into a nearby building controlled by Israeli settlers immediately after the incident.
The Palestinian higher judicial council said Shawki worked in a Palestinian court in Hebron and denounced the shooting as “a despicable crime”.
Fawzi al-Shawki, Yasser’s father, told Ma’an news that his son was distributing notices from the Palestinian court across Hebron when he was killed. (Agencies)