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

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Erupted inside Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem early Wednesday as Israeli police said they were in to dislodge “agitators”, a movement denied 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 to the Al-Aqsa mosque to protect it” en masse.

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

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

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

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

Israeli police have released videos showing explosions of fireworks 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 firework boxes 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 into the mosque after “several law-breaking youths and masked agitators” barricaded themselves inside.

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

“After many long attempts to get them out by talking to no avail, police forces had to enter the compound to get them out with the intentions of allowing the Fajr (dawn) prayer and disturbance “to prevent violence,” they said. added.

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

“Police detained the rioters”, who “damaged and destroyed the mosque”, the statement said, 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, and the Israeli army reported rocket warning sirens to have been triggered in several Israeli urban centers across the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli army said five rockets fired from the Gaza Strip had been intercepted by the air defense system around Sderot in southern Israel, and four more had fallen in uninhabited areas.

Later Israeli fighter jets hit two Hamas weapons manufacturing sites in the central Gaza Strip “in response” to the rocket fire, the army said.

The air raids were followed by new rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, and around 6:15 am (0415 GMT), Israeli jets carried out fresh strikes on the territory, according to AFP journalists.

No injuries were reported after the first series of raids.

Earlier in Gaza, dozens of demonstrators took to the streets overnight, burning tires.

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

Egypt condemned the “storming” of the Israeli police on the mosque and the “blatant attacks” on worshippers.

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

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has spiraled into violence since the beginning 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 AFP tallies 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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