RAMALLAH: Fresh clashes between Palestinian worshippers and Israeli police at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound left 42 people injured on the last Friday of Ramadan, following weeks of violence at the religious site. Twenty-two people were hospitalized.
There were around 160,000 worshippers in the Al-Aqsa compound on Friday. Sheikh Omar Al-Kiswani, director of Al-Aqsa Mosque, told Arab News that the clashes took place after tightened restrictions at the Israeli military checkpoints leading to Jerusalem prevented thousands of worshipers from reaching the mosque. “We expected the number of worshippers to reach 220,000,” he said.
Hundreds of those who were unable to reach Al-Aqsa prayed in front of the Israeli military checkpoints at the entrances to the city of Jerusalem, he added.
The huge number of worshippers who prayed at Al-Aqsa during the previous three Fridays and Laylat Al-Qadr “is a clear message that Al-Aqsa Mosque is for Muslims alone, and it does not accept division and partnership for control with non-Muslims,” Al-Kiswani said.
Nearly 4,625 Jews entered Al-Aqsa compound last week to performing Talmudic prayer under police guard.
“The arrival — and (determination) — of the massive number of worshippers, despite the checkpoints and restrictions, confirm that the Palestinian people are ready to protect and defend Al-Aqsa Mosque against all the dangers facing it, no matter how great they are,” Al-Kiswani added.
The streets of East Jerusalem and the gates that lead to Al-Aqsa had been crowded since the early hours with worshippers from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as Palestinian citizens of Israel.
The Israeli police deployed 3,000 personnel in the Old City and the entrances to Al-Aqsa. Top Israeli police officers and the commander of Al-Quds Brigade — monitored the security situation until the end of Friday prayers.
Israeli police stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque in large numbers on Friday morning, surrounding worshipers and firing rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas, injuring several. They prevented ambulance crews from reaching the wounded before they withdrew.
The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned Israel’s attempts to “impose a temporal division on the existing reality” in Al-Aqsa and restrictions that prevented some worshippers from reaching the mosque, denouncing the claims of Israeli officials that they are keen to maintain the status quo or are dealing “cautiously” with the situation.
The Israeli security services warned that the situation would be “very tense” until the end of May, when the provocative flag marches that take place to mark the anniversary of Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem according to the Hebrew calendar will end.
Meanwhile, an extremist Jewish group that advocates for Jews’ right to enter Al-Aqsa has announced the launch of an online course that teaches Jews how to disguise themselves as Muslims and infiltrate Al-Aqsa when it is closed to them.
In a post published on Twitter, the group said: “After the (Israeli) government’s surrender to ‘terrorism’ by its decision to close the Temple Mount to Jewish visitors, we open a short path to enter the mountain through the remaining open doors by disguise and immersion in an Islamic environment.”
There has also been a video circulating on social media showing lessons held in an apartment in Jerusalem by leaders of the Return to the Mountain organization, teaching followers how to wear traditional Islamic dress, how to die their hair a darker shade, and advising them to carry prayer rugs, prayer beads, Arabic books and even the Qur’an to disguise themselves as Muslims.
Last week, a Jewish man was arrested trying to enter the mosque while wearing traditional Emirati dress — which is infrequently seen at the site. He was seen removing his shoes before reaching the entrance, which a true Muslim would be unlikely to do. He was also photographed carrying a kitchen rug wrapped around his arm, instead of the traditional prayer rug placed over the shoulder.