Israeli police lock Palestinians in mosque at Al-Aqsa compound


Israeli police faced off with Palestinians holed up inside Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque on Sunday as hundreds of Jews visited the holy compound ahead of a contentious Jewish nationalist march through the heart of the Old City.

The annual Jerusalem procession celebrates Israel’s capture of the Old City in the 1967 Middle East war and draws thousands of cheering, chanting participants to its narrow, stone streets.

Palestinian factions have warned that the flag-waving parade through the city’s Muslim quarter could re-ignite their decades-old conflict with Israelis. Tensions have been rising in the city for weeks.

Hours before the procession was due to kick off, police locked some Palestinians inside a mosque on the Al-Aqsa compound as Jewish visitors arrived for daily tours of the compound, which is revered by both Muslims and Jews.

Al Jazeera reported that Israeli forces occupied the rooftop of the al-Qibli prayer hall in the compound on Sunday morning and besieged the worshippers inside it to enable the passage of settlers to go unhindered.

Their correspondent, Najwan Simri, said the Israelis had prevented Palestinian journalists and photographers from entering Al-Aqsa Mosque and threatened them with arrest.

Rubber bullets had also been fired at Palestinian protesters in the compound, in an effort to disperse them. Ten were reportedly injured.

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said that the settlers attacked an ambulance crew affiliated with it in the Old City while they were trying to reach an injured person in al-Wad neighbourhood.

Palestinians threw stones and shot fireworks towards police, who responded with stun grenades.

Among the Jewish visitors were a dozen or so young men, wearing religious garb, who smiled, sang and clapped in the direction of the protesters. Other Jews were later seen holding up Israeli flags.

The Islamist group Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, condemned videos posted online suggesting that Jews had prayed at the site, in violation of a long-standing ban.

“The Israel government is fully responsible for all these irresponsible policies and the following consequences,” senior Hamas official Bassem Naim told Reuters.

In recent years Hamas has cast itself as a defender of Muslim Jerusalem. After weeks of tension last year over Palestinian evictions in the city, Hamas fired rockets into Israel during the nationalist march, triggering an 11-day war that killed at least 250 Palestinians in Gaza and 13 people in Israel.

Despite calls for a rethink of the march from some of his own coalition allies, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has refused to countenance any changes.—Agencies