Concern, criticism after Israel police storm Jerusalem mosque
Criticism and global concern came on Wednesday after Israeli police clashed with Palestinians inside Islam’s third holiest site, prompting a military exchange of rockets and airstrikes, and fears of further escalation.
Two more rockets were fired late Wednesday from the Israeli-blocked Gaza Strip toward Israel, the army and witnesses said, and fresh shelling erupted at the Al-Aqsa mosque during Passover and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Armed police in riot gear stormed the Al-Aqsa mosque prayer hall before dawn on Wednesday, targeting “law-breaking youths and masked agitators” they said were barricaded inside.
Officers were met with a barrage of rocks and fireworks, police video showed, and more than 350 people were arrested.
The Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, was “shocked and horrified” by images he saw of Israeli security forces beating people at the mosque, especially because it came at a holy time for Jews, Christians and Muslims who should be a period of peace. said a spokesperson.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the United States said it was “deeply concerned about the ongoing violence and we urge all sides to avoid further escalation”.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose country and Israel are rebuilding ties, said: “Trampling on the Al-Aqsa mosque is our red line.”
Later on Wednesday, Israeli police said that “dozens of youths who broke the law, some masked, threw fireworks and stones” into the mosque and tried again to barricade themselves and gather their worshipers for evening prayers.
The officers blocked and dispersed the “violent riots” and allowed worshipers to leave, police said. An AFP journalist saw Israeli security forces blocking access routes to the mosque.
A spokesman for the Palestinian president, Mahmud Abbas, said Israel was “creating an atmosphere of escalation, instability and tension”, saying police stormed the mosque and attacked worshipers on Wednesday evening.
Violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has escalated since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government came to power in December, a coalition with extremist and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties.
Palestinian witness Abdel Karim Ikraiem, 74, said Israeli police armed with batons, tear gas grenades and smoke bombs burst into the mosque “with force” and “hit the women and men” worshiping there early Wednesday.
One video that was widely circulated on social media showed police clubbing people on the floor inside the mosque.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said it treated 37 people, including some after they were released from custody.
Israel’s right-wing National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, expressed “full support” for the police and their “quick and determined” actions.
The Palestinian militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza, called on Palestinians in the West Bank to “go to the Al-Aqsa mosque to protect it” en masse.
The mosque in east Jerusalem that is attached to the Israelites is built on top of what Jews call the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site.
It has often been a flashpoint, and clashes there in May 2021 sparked the latest Gaza war, which lasted 11 days.
– Rocks and fireworks –
On the streets of Gaza, protesters burned tires and swore to “protect and defend the Al-Aqsa mosque”.
Within an hour of the first clashes at the Al-Aqsa mosque, at least nine rockets were fired from Gaza towards Israel, the army said, adding that “in response” warplanes hit two suspected Hamas weapons manufacturing sites.
The airstrikes were followed by new rocket fire from Gaza and further Israeli strikes, AFP journalists reported.
Later on Wednesday, witnesses reported two more rockets fired from northern Gaza. Israel said one launch failed and crashed in Gaza and the other landed “in the security fence area”.
Islamic Jihad, another militant group based in Gaza, called the rockets a “first warning message”.
– ‘Consequences’ –
Palestinian minister of civil affairs Hussein al-Sheikh condemned Israeli police action inside Al-Aqsa, saying that “urgent Palestinian, Arab and international action is needed to stop the level of brutality”.
Germany urged both sides to “do everything possible to ease the situation”.
The Arab League condemned “the attack on the faithful” and called for an emergency meeting.
Jordan, who administers the mosque, condemned his “storming”, and asked Israeli forces to leave the compound immediately.
The United Arab Emirates and Morocco, which established ties with Israel in 2020 as part of agreements brokered by the US, also strongly criticized Israel’s police action.
A statement from the UAE foreign ministry rejected all practices that “threaten further escalation”. He also criticized the worshipers of their “own barricade”.
Rabat’s foreign ministry emphasized the need to “avoid measures and violations likely to harm the chances of peace in the region”.
The Gulf emirate of Qatar, which does not recognize Israel, warned that “Israeli practices will have serious consequences for security and stability in the region, and will undermine efforts to revive the stalled peace process, unless the international community hasten to take action.” “.
So far this year, the conflict has claimed the lives of at least 91 Palestinians, 15 Israelis and one Ukrainian, according to AFP tallies based on official sources from both sides.