Last night, on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan, even as thousands of Muslims had gathered to offer prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, Israeli police raided the compound and fired rubber bullets. In turn the Palestinians threw stones and bottles. According to the BBC at least 163 Palestinians and six Israeli policemen were injured in the raid.
The Anadolu Agency reported that Israeli police attacked worshippers at the Masjid al-Qiblatain inside al-Aqsa with stun grenades and rubber bullets and that Palestinians pelted Israeli soldiers with stones and glass bottles. It added that clashes took place between Israeli security forces and Palestinians trying to enter Al-Aqsa through the Bab Al-Silsila, one of the gates to the mosque.
Jerusalem is a holy city for people of three religions: Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The Al-Aqsa mosque is the third most important mosque to Muslims after those in Mecca and Medina. The mosque complex is located in Jerusalem’s Old City in an area which is also the location of Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism.
The timing of this raid is significant because it comes in wake of growing tensions surrounding the eviction of Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah. In fact, many of those present at the Al-Aqsa mosque during the raid were also participating in a sit-in protest to condemn the evictions.
In fact, on Friday itself, the United Nations had “called on Israel to immediately halt all forced evictions, including those in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem, as well as to exercise maximum restraint in the use of force while ensuring safety and security there.”
Ruper Colville, spokesperson for the UN Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said, “Given the disturbing scenes in Sheikh Jarrah over the past few days, we wish to emphasize that East Jerusalem remains part of the occupied Palestinian territory, in which International Humanitarian Law applies. The occupying Power must respect and cannot confiscate private property in occupied territory, and must respect, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country.”
Earlier this week, on Thursday, Tor Wennesland, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, also urged Israel to “cease demolitions and evictions, in line with its obligations under international humanitarian law.” He had reiterated that the Isareli Security Forces (ISF) “must exercise maximum restrain and use lethal force only when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.” He added, “Perpetrators of violence on all sides must be held accountable and swiftly brought to justice.”
Meanwhile, the Red Crecent has opened a field hospital to treat the injured.
*Feature image by Andrew Shiva via Wikimedia Commons.