RAMALLAH: Palestinians have condemned repeated Israeli attacks on the Bab Al-Rahma Chapel in Al-Aqsa Mosque, saying the site has been vandalized, while worshippers face daily threats and abuse.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said Bab Al-Rahma was an integral part of Al-Aqsa and only Muslims had the right to control its affairs.
Removal of items from the chapel and its vandalization by Israel were unacceptable, he added.
Ramzi Khoury, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee, said extremist settler groups raised Israeli flags in the courtyards of Al-Aqsa Mosque on Wednesday and performed religious rituals.
He described the Israeli actions as an “unprecedented aggression against the sanctity of Al-Aqsa, a desecration of its religious status, and a provocation to Muslims all over the world.”
Israeli forces’ repeated attacks on Bab Al-Rahma would not give Israel any sovereignty over Al-Aqsa Mosque or Jerusalem, as “it is an occupied Palestinian city with its Islamic and Christian sanctities according to the relevant international legitimacy resolutions,” he added.
Rawhi Fattouh, president of the Palestinian National Council, called on the international community to curb the “criminal madness” of the Israeli government and its National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir.
Fattouh said the raids constituted a flagrant violation of places of worship and an attempt to give a religious character to the conflict, “which would ignite the region and detonate the situation.”
Osama Al-Qawasmi, a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, said the “cowardly and provocative attack on Bab Al-Rahma was only part of the systematic Israeli campaign to Judaize Jerusalem.”
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for the Palestinian presidency, said Israeli vandalism confirmed that the extremist government was looking for ways to detonate the situation.
“Destructive policies seek to destroy any regional or international effort to provide stability and prevent the deterioration of the situation,” he said.
Abu Rudeineh said that Israel was playing with fire, as the chapel was an integral part of Al-Aqsa Mosque.
On Wednesday, Israeli police stormed Bab Al-Rahma for a fourth consecutive day amid searches in the vicinity. Earlier police cut off the electricity supply and damaged installations inside the chapel.
Palestinians were able to open the Gate of Mercy chapel in February 2019, after it was closed by Israeli authorities for 16 years.
The Umayyads built Bab Al-Rahma Chapel about 1,300 years ago as a standard door between the Jerusalem Wall and the eastern Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The site fell into neglect after the Israeli occupation of Al-Aqsa in 1967. In 1992, it witnessed a remarkable recovery after the Islamic Heritage Committee launched religious and social activities there. However, Israeli authorities banned the events in 2003 and closed the chapel completely.
For the past three years, Israeli police have continued to enter the prayer hall wearing shoes. Police also have set up a monitoring point above the chapel and another nearby.
Azzam Al-Khatib, director of the Islamic Waqf Department that supervises the Al-Aqsa Mosque and is affiliated with Jordan, told Arab News that since Eid Al-Fitr Israeli police have been storming Bab Al-Rahma two or three times a day.
“They do not consider it a chapel, but rather a regular location in Al-Aqsa Mosque, and we know the greed of extremists about Al-Aqsa and Bab Al-Rahma,” Al-Khatib said.
He said Bab Al-Rahma was part of Al-Aqsa, and Israeli authorities had no right to interfere with its affairs.
Omar Al-Kiswani, director of Al-Aqsa Mosque, said that Israeli authorities had refused to allow restoration work on the chapel, which was in urgent need of internal and external repair.
Israeli police frequently harassed worshippers with threats of deportation, bag searches, and the confiscation of food items and balloons meant to be distributed among children.
They also forbid placing wooden barriers separating rows of men and women during prayers and have repeatedly confiscated shoe racks, he said.
Extremist Jews, who believe the “awaited messiah” will enter through Bab Al-Rahma at the end of time, are seeking to convert the chapel into a synagogue. However, its recent opening has dashed their hopes.
Al-Kiswani said the intruders were trying to cut the chapel off from the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
However, he said Israeli authorities are unlikely to close the chapel again given the strong Palestinian reaction in the past.