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Israeli police attack Palestinian worshippers in Al-Aqsa after dawn prayer

Hundreds expelled from holy site and others arrested and wounded as Israel cracks down on 'Great Fajr Campaign'
An Israeli policeman guards next to a locked door of al-Aqsa mosque during clashes with Palestinians in Jerusalem's Old City 2 June, 2019 (Reuters)

Israeli police attacked Palestinian worshippers inside occupied East Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa compound after they finished performing the Islamic dawn prayer on Friday, Wafa news reported.

Last week, Palestinians launched the “Great Fajr Campaign”, calling on people to pray at dawn, fajr in Arabic, in the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, in the occupied West Bank.

The two mosques are flashpoint sites between Palestinians and Israeli settlers. Jewish prayer is forbidden in the Al-Aqsa compound, which Jews believe is the site of the Second Jewish Temple destroyed in antiquity, though they often controversially flout the regulations. 

Hebron's Ibrahimi Mosque, meanwhile, was divided to accommodate Jewish worship following a 1992 massacre that saw an Israeli settler murder 29 Muslim worshippers.

Despite the harsh winter and rain, hundreds of Palestinians have been going daily to perform the dawn prayer, one of the five daily prayers in Islam, just after 5am in the morning.

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This is to show their devotion to the holy places and highlight their rejection of Israeli settler presence, according to the campaign.

Israel’s Channel 12 said Israeli forces in Jerusalem were surprised by the number of Palestinian worshippers who came to Al-Aqsa.

Israel’s police spokesperson said “hundreds of worshippers marched in protest, during which they chanted national slogans and violated the order in place".

Bab Huta Street, which leads through Jerusalem's Old City to the Al-Aqsa compound, was packed with Palestinians despite the rainy weather.

Tens of Israeli police stormed the compound after some Palestinian worshippers started to chant “Allahu Akbar” (Allah is Great), Wafa reported.

Video footage taken inside the compound shows Israeli police dispersing Palestinians violently, using batons and firing rubber-coated bullets.

Five Palestinians were wounded, according to Wafa, and three were arrested. Hundreds of worshippers were forced to leave the site and Bab Huta Street was closed off.

Both the Fatah movement and Hamas, fierce political rivals, issued statements endorsing the Great Fajr Campaign and calling on Palestinians to protect the Al-Aqsa and Ibrahimi mosques from the “aggressive Zionist projects… that aim to erase their Islamic identity”.

Israeli settler incursions

Last week, 343 Israeli settlers entered the Al-Aqsa compound under the protection of Israeli forces.

Israeli settlers regularly enter through the Moroccan Gate, which leads to the Western Wall plaza, and often perform Jewish prayers on the site.

Some right-wing Israeli activists have advocated for the destruction of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound to make way for a Third Temple.

Increasingly, these activists have sought to build support for an increased Jewish presence at the compound, despite a longstanding, joint guardianship agreement between Israel and Jordan, which retains control over Christian and Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.

The Al-Aqsa mosque is one of the holiest sites in Islam. It was also Islam's first Qibla, the direction towards which Muslims must turn to pray, before it was changed to Mecca.

Palestinians fear settler tours inside the Al-Aqsa compound may erode their claims to the area, and further extinguish their aspirations for full rights and a state of their own, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

According to the Waqf, a religious trust that runs Al-Aqsa, around 29,610 Israeli settlers entered the compound in 2019.

The status of the Al-Aqsa compound is one of the most sensitive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, since Israel occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967.