Wednesday, September 16, 2015
The battle for Al-Aqsa Compound
The battle for Al-Aqsa Compound
Israeli soldiers storm Al-Aqsa compound,Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemns "attack" on Al-Aqsa following clashes at one of Islam's holiest sites.
Clashes have erupted after a number of Israeli soldiers entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, police and witnesses said.
The Israeli security personnel used tear gas and stun grenades, as they entered the compound to arrest what they called Palestinian "stone throwers".
Stun grenades & tear gas: Israeli forces storm Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem
Omar Kiswani, the manager of Al-Aqsa Mosque, told Al Jazeera that 80 "Jewish settlers" protected by the Israeli police, attacked the mosque when confronted by Palestinian volunteer guards.
A statement issued by the Israeli police said that "masked protesters who were inside the mosque threw stones and fireworks at police".
A Muslim witness accused police of entering the mosque and causing damage, saying prayer mats were partially burned.
Clashes later continued outside the mosque complex, with police firing tear gas and stun grenades.
Israeli security forces closed the mosque's compound to worshippers following the clashes that come just hours before the start of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah.
"The presidency strongly condemns the attack by the occupier's military and police against the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the aggression against the faithful who were there," a statement from his office said.
Mustafa Barghouti, the secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative, said that the Israeli police were being dishonest.
"The Israeli police are lying, they have lied before and they are lying again," he said."I think what happened today is an act of aggression on the part of the Israeli army," he said, adding that right-wing Jewish settlers provoked Palestinians when they entered the mosque.
Al Jazeera's Scott Heidler, reporting from Jerusalem, said there are some reports that Jewish groups and Jewish activists who are not supposed to pray in the Al-Aqsa compound got in there, and this is what could have triggered the clashes.
"We are hearing that the minister of agriculture, a member of a right-wing political party here in Israel, was waiting to get into the compound this morning. If that directly sparked what we saw, it is difficult to say," Heidler said.
The disturbances came with tensions running high after Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon last week banned two Muslim groups from entering the mosque compound - Islam's third holiest site.
Israel seized East Jerusalem, where Al-Aqsa is located, in the Six Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move not recognised by the international community.
On Monday, chunks of rock still peppered the entrance to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third holiest site. Volunteers worked to remove shards of glass and metal, but parts of the crimson and gold carpet were charred by stun grenades hurled into the holy site by Israeli forces, who also fired rubber-coated metal bullets at Muslim worshippers.
Over time, the discussion over entry to the compound has shifted to one focusing on freedom of worship - with Israeli groups arguing that Jews, like Muslims, should be allowed to pray there.
"This is not about prayer,” she argued. "We are worried by the entry of extremists who want to demolish our mosque and build their temple. There's been an increase in the number of attempts to do so in recent years."
In 1990, Israeli border police killed 22 Palestinians during a demonstration triggered by an attempt by Jewish extremists to lay the cornerstone for a new temple in the compound.
Several years earlier, two members of an organisation called the Jewish Underground (who were founding figures in the pro-settlement Gush Emunim movement), were caught trying to bomb the two sites with the hope that the Third Temple would be built on their ruins.
The issue of the compound was recently addressed by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, which suggested that Jews wishing to visit should be permitted to do so without being allowed to pray. "Access for all communities is the best way to ensure access for each," the report states.
The group reported discussions between Israel and Jordan, which has custodial rights at the compound, over the possibility of allowing non-Muslim visitors. There's been no confirmation on the Jordanian side to this report, and an Israeli official in the Israeli prime minister's office has denied it, according to Israeli daily Haaretz. "There are no negotiations and no change in the status quo at the Temple Mount," the official said.
Jerusalem's Old City, founded around 4,000 BC, is an area of great significance to people from the three monotheistic religions: Islam, Judaism and Christianity. It is divided into four quarters (Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Armenian) and is surrounded by walls. Eleven gates lead into the Old City, and seven of these are open today.
Inside the Old City, a World Heritage site, lies al-Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, a 35-acre compound that comprises Islam's third holiest site, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, al-Aqsa mosque. The compound is also home to the Dome of the Rock, a revered site believed to be where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
Since Israel occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip in June 1967, the affairs of the Noble Sanctuary have been run by an Islamic trusteeship, supported by the Jordanian government, known as the Waqf. Israel still maintains what it believes to be its right to sovereignty over the area after it annexed the eastern part of the city.
In addition to running schools and charities in Jerusalem, the Waqf maintains guards at the entrances to the compound, with the exception of the Mughrabi Gate. This gate (also known as Bab al-Magharbeh or Dung Gate) is connected by a bridge to an open-air plaza that was created when Israel demolished the Mughrabi (Moroccan) Quarter in 1967.
This plaza lies in front of the Western (Wailing) Wall, which Jews believe is the last remnant of the Second Temple, a place of Jewish worship that was destroyed by the Roman rulers of Jerusalem centuries ago. Jewish tradition maintains that a Third Temple will be rebuilt on the Noble Sanctuary, referred to in Judaism as the Temple Mount.
The Noble Sanctuary compound is currently allowed for Muslim prayer alone, but Israeli soldiers regularly escort Jewish Israeli visitors to the site. These incursions are often performed under armed guard, and provoke violent clashes between the Israeli security forces and Palestinians. The Israeli authorities also regularly impose strict rules on Palestinian access to the Noble Sanctuary, frequently forbidding all men under 40 (at times under 50) years of age from entering.