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Hundreds of settlers storm al-Aqsa Mosque and raise Israeli flag

Settlers, accompanied by Israeli security forces, performed prayers and raised flag at the Qattanin Gate
Israeli security forces accompany settlers past the Dome of the Rock on 5 May 2022 (AFP)

Hundreds of Israeli settlers, accompanied by Israeli security forces, stormed al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem's Old City on Thursday.

The settlers entered through the Moroccan Gate on the western side of the site, which the Israeli authorities have controlled since the beginning of the occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967.

Once inside, the settlers performed prayers and raised the Israeli flag at the Qattanin Gate, as they marked Israel's Memorial Day, the Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.

Wafa said that almost 600 settlers had entered the compound in 22 groups, led by the right-wing Knesset member Yehuda Glick. 

The news agency said large numbers of Muslim worshippers were prevented from entering al-Aqsa Mosque at dawn and that some of them had been beaten by Israeli security forces, who fired rubber-coated bullets, tear gas, and stun grenades at the Palestinians.

Israeli forces arrested 50 Palestinians near al-Mathara Gate, including a paramedic. Wafa reported that some Palestinians had stayed overnight in the Qibli mosque in the southern area of the compound and that they were trapped inside as Israeli settlers toured the site.

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The Palestinian Red Crescent said they treated two prominent activists, Nasser Qaws and Mohammed Abu Hummus, in the Al-Aqsa compound and transported them to Al-Makassed hospital. Israeli forces beat them as they protested the settlers' incursion.

The Red Crescent also treated eight people wounded by rubber-coated bullets, three by stun grenades and 25 who were suffocated by tear gas.

Fadi al-Hidmi, the minister for Jerusalem in the Palestinian Authority (PA), told Wafa that the Israeli settlers' goal is to divide the compound between Palestinians and Jewish Israelis.

"This is a serious violation, and even a blow to the historical and legal situation in Al-Aqsa Mosque, which the occupation government falsely claims not to violate," Hidmi said.

A Hamas spokesperson warned on Wednesday of "a rebellious response of our people to this blatant aggression," and called Palestinians to visit Al-Aqsa compound on Thursday.

Itamar Ben Gvir, the extremist Knesset member of the Religious Zionism alliance, tweeted a picture of his wife and son in Al-Aqsa compound on Thursday morning, writing that they "are not afraid of Hamas threats".

Ben Gvir added: "It is time to eliminate the Hamas spokesman and establish a synagogue on the mount," referring to Al-Aqsa compound, known for Jews as the Temple Mount.

"We are the landlords of Israel and not a bunch of terrorists!" he tweeted.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad previously warned of an Israeli escalation in East Jerusalem and the West Bank this week.

They also accused police of disconnecting the muezzin's speakers at the mosque on Tuesday night so as not to interfere with Israel's Memorial Day opening ceremony at the adjacent Western Wall plaza. Israeli police denied the claim, describing it as "fake news".

Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported Mukhtar Jumaa, Egypt's endowments minister, as saying: "The waving of Israeli flags and the singing of the Israeli anthem in the al-Aqsa Mosque are a blatant aggression on the mosque and a dangerous provocation in the feelings of Muslims all over the world.

"It serves the extremists and harms international peace and the discourse between religions and cultures."

'Provocation against Muslim worshippers'

Palestinians have been outraged by repeated intrusions by Israeli settlers to pray at the site.

By long-standing convention, non-Muslim tourists are allowed to visit under certain conditions and the approval of the Waqf, an Islamic trust that manages the mosque's affairs, but only Muslims are allowed to pray there.

Several Palestinian and Arab organisations had warned against allowing settlers to enter al-Aqsa Mosque on Thursday, after a 12-day period in which the government had barred them from entering the compound during the final days of Ramadan.

However, on Wednesday, Israeli police confirmed that Al-Aqsa Mosque would be opened to settlers on Thursday from 7am to 11am and from 1.30pm to 2.30pm.

Jordanian Minister of Awqaf Islamic Affairs and Holy Places Mohammad Khalaileh said on Thursday that allowing settlers to enter the site was "a provocation against Muslim worshippers" that will only "escalate the tensions and drag the area into clashes and wars".

Israeli security forces raided al-Aqsa Mosque several times during Ramadan, injuring and arresting hundreds of Palestinians there.

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