Tel Aviv, Israel (IMEMC) – Clashes broke out in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound when Israeli forces stormed the holy site on Sunday morning, the last day of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, witnesses said.
Witnesses told Ma’an News Agency that special Israeli forces stormed the holy site via the Moroccan and Chain gatest, firing rubber-coated steel bullets and stun grenades at Palestinian worshipers. Israeli police said that said Palestinians “threw stones and fireworks at police and border police forces,” who responded with “riot dispersal means.”
Calm returned to the mosque compound later in the morning and most police withdrew. Visits by Jews were stopped through the day and age restrictions on Palestinian men entering the compound lifted for the Muslim holiday.
However, tensions remained high ahead of an eight-day Jewish festival, known as the Sukkut, which begins Sunday evening and is expected to lead to an increase in Jewish visitors to the Al-Aqsa compound.
Palestinian protesters on Sunday were reportedly preparing “to defend” the mosque compound during the festival, stocking stones inside the southern mosque and planning to sleep in it. While Israeli police have prevented non-Muslims from entering the compound during the four-day Eid, which started Thursday, Israeli forces have been heavily deployed across the Old City surrounding the compound.
Recent weeks have seen severe restrictions on Palestinian worshipers wishing to enter the site, with Palestinians saying there is a newly established schedule in which Jews are allowed to tour the compound between 7 and 11 a.m., while Muslim entry is restricted.
Senior Palestinian officials have expressed concerns that Israel is restricting access to the compound in a bid to establish daily Jewish prayer, despite an agreement forbidding non-Muslim worship at the site.
The speaker of the joint Arab bloc in the Israeli Knesset, Ayman Odeh, wrote on his Facebook page on Saturday that to “counter Israeli plots to divide Al-Aqsa Mosque between Muslims and Jews,” Palestinian citizens of Israel should head to the mosque in masses over the coming days.
“Now there are crowds in the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque and these crowds will grow larger tomorrow and the day after tomorrow in particular,” Odeh wrote.
He said that the goal of the gathering was “to uproot the idea of dividing Al-Aqsa and its courtyards.”
He added that struggle to “protect Al-Aqsa” continues along with the struggle to end occupation, “and the Palestinian people as a whole.”
This report was prepared by IMEMC.