JERUSALEM (AA): Israeli forces have closed several entrances to East Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque complex amid ongoing clashes with Palestinian worshippers, a Palestinian official said Tuesday.
“Dozens of Israeli soldiers stormed the Al-Aqsa compound and assaulted religious figures,” Firas al-Dibs, a spokesman for Jerusalem’s Religious Endowments Authority, a Jordan-run agency tasked with overseeing the city’s Muslim and Christian sites, said in a statement.
According to al-Dibs, Al-Aqsa Mosque Director Omar Kiswani and Sheikh Wasef al-Bakri, the acting supreme judge of Jerusalem’s Islamic Courts, were among those assaulted by Israeli security forces.
Baton-wielding police, al-Dibs said, had attacked dozens of Muslim worshippers earlier Tuesday near the Al-Aqsa compound’s iconic Dome of the Rock Mosque.
“At least five Palestinians were arrested before being taken into custody for further investigation,” he added.
In a subsequent statement, al-Dibs said that Israeli forces had expelled all Muslim worshippers from inside the mosque complex, during which at least 10 of the latter were assaulted.
He went on to assert that a fire that erupted inside the mosque complex — used to justify the expulsion of worshippers — had been started by police.
“Everything that happened was orchestrated by the police,” he said.
The Israeli authorities, for their part, have yet to comment on the reported disturbances.
The Palestinian Presidency, meanwhile, has condemned the reported escalations.
According to a statement published by Palestine’s WAFA news agency, President Mahmoud Abbas is maintaining “intensive contacts” with all relevant parties in hopes of defusing the situation.
He has also called on the international community to intervene, accusing Israeli police and settlers of “consistently violating the sanctity of the mosque and provoking the sentiments of Muslims”.
Tension has mounted in Jerusalem since last month, when Israeli police briefly sealed the Al-Aqsa compound’s Al-Rahma Gate, located adjacent to the eastern wall of the Old City, sparking angry Palestinian demonstrations.
In the weeks since, the Israeli authorities have banned scores of Palestinians — including religious officials — from entering the Al-Aqsa, which for Muslims represents the world’s third holiest site.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem, in which the Al-Aqsa is located, during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. It annexed the entire city in 1980 in a move never recognized by the international community.