Monday, October 26, 2020

International community urges calm at al Aqsa amid clashes, Israeli restrictions

By Cath And - September 18, 2015
Section: [Main News] [Videos] [Features]
Tags: [al-Aqsa]

Photos by Catherine Anderson.

Video by Jordan Woodgate.



The Old City of Jerusalem was relatively calm this morning, though it was clear from Israeli security presence that the forces did not expect this calm to last.


At the entrance to the Western Wall at around 8:30 a.m., a group of approximately thirty Israeli soldiers appeared to be given a briefing, then marched through the Old City and dispersed between the entrances of Al-Aqsa compound. Many more soldiers could be seen patrolling the streets of the Old City throughout the morning.


Unrest and clashes at the Al-Aqsa have been consistent since last weekend, leaving many in the Old City of Jerusalem concerned as to  how events would unfold Friday, the Muslim holy day.


Violence began on Sunday after Israeli forces launched a surprise raid on the compound “to prevent riots by Arabs,” Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld said. Police claimed that a group of Palestinian youths had blockaded themselves inside the mosque and were preparing to disrupt the visits of Jewish groups to the site.  


For years, a status quo has existed in which Muslims may pray within Al-Aqsa, and Jews at the Western Wall, which runs alongside the compound.


The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated on Wednesday that “[this] status quo protects the right of Muslims to pray in the mosque, as well as the freedom of all people, whether Muslims, Christians, Jews or others, to visit the Temple Mount.”


Soldiers at Al-Aqsa’s entrances this morning confirmed to Palestine Monitor reports that they would only allow Muslims inside the compound Friday.

As midday prayer approached, a large group of young men congregated at Bab Al-Silsila, one entrance to Al-Aqsa.


Some of the men told Palestine Monitor that they had hoped to enter the mosque compound to pray, but were prevented from doing so because the guards would not allow any men under the age of 40 to enter the compound.  


The soldiers at the gate were seen forcibly removing young men from the entrance to the compound, many of whom tried repeatedly to enter.  


Around the corner at Bab Al-Nazir, a group of Palestinian men clashed with Israeli soldiers, who created an impenetrable seal with their shields to block the men from entering the compound.


As the crowd dispersed, a handful of the men unfolded their prayer mats and began to pray at the blockaded entrance, most likely the closest they would get to the mosque today.  

In addition to the wider restriction of entrance to the mosque, one source of this week’s tension in Jerusalem has been the outlawing of two Muslim civilian groups from entering the compound.  


The aims of these groups has been to defend Al-Aqsa from being taken over or visited by Jewish extremists, who advocate Jews’ rights to pray within the Aqsa compound. Israeli authorities labelled both civilian groups as illegal organisations Sept. 8 and banned them from entering Al-Aqsa.  


In conjunction with this ban, Israeli forces have been accompanying Jewish groups inside Al-Aqsa compound, allowing them to tour the site as well as to pray.  


Many Palestinians see these dual moves, alongside this week’s restriction of entry, as part of a long-running attempt to transfer Al-Aqsa into Jewish-Israeli control.  


A Hamas spokesperson said Sept. 16 that Israeli forces are attempting to Judaize Al-Aqsa, claiming that, “it is obvious that the Israeli attack on Al-Aqsa Mosque nowadays is the implementation of an Israeli plan developed by the leaders, rabbis and settlers of the Israeli occupation.”


Shaikh Azzam Al-Khatib, the Director-General of Muslim Endowments and Al-Aqsa Affairs, has stated that, “the occupation regime has no right to intervene in Al-Aqsa's matters,” Middle East Monitor reported last Friday.  


“Any Muslim who enters Al-Aqsa Mosque and prays is a protector of the mosque. Nobody has a right to prevent a Muslim from entering the holy site and praying,” he continued.


In the early afternoon Friday, clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians spilled out of the Old City and into the surrounding area. Israeli forces were present at the Damascus Gate entrance to the Old City all morning, and in the afternoon they cordoned off the entrance and restricted the movement of visitors.


Not far from Damascus Gate, a police barrier was set up across Nablus Road, next to the main terminal for buses going in and out of the West Bank.  


Dozens of Israeli soldiers patrolled the area, throwing tear gas canisters into the bus station to try to disperse the crowd that had gathered there. A crowd of Palestinian youths threw stones and glass bottles at the soldiers.  


The Israeli government has approved a temporary plan formulated by the Israeli police which will be in effect until October. The plan includes an increase in troop numbers in Jerusalem, as well as granting permission to police to use a low-powered sniper rifles against rock-throwers. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted Sunday that Israel is “declaring war on stone throwers.”


Many are concerned that the events at Al-Aqsa will lead to an increase in violence across the region. The United Nation’s (UN) Middle East Envoy Nikolay Mladenov has warned that the clashes in the Old City may spark, “a vicious tide of terror and extremism” in the region.


An official source from the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia  condemned Israel’s acts of “illegal aggression,” claiming that such aggression fuels extremism.


Other foreign governments have also voiced concern over recent events at Al-Aqsa. The Jordanian government, which has governing authority over Al-Aqsa, has stated that Jordan will interfere if Israel attempts to alter the status quo at the compound,


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also weighed in by calling upon the UN to respond to Israel’s “breach” of al-Aqsa mosque.


Late Thursday, the United Nations Security Council called for restraint and calm in Jerusalem. The UN issued a statement saying that Muslims, "must be allowed to worship in peace, free from violence, threats and provocations,” and continues that "visitors should be without fear of violence or intimidation."




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