Israeli police enter Al Aqsa Mosque during tense Jewish holiday

Dozens of settlers break into compound in successive groups through Moroccan Gate

Police push back a Palestinian woman protesting near Orthodox Jews celebrating Sukkot in the Old City of Jerusalem. EPA
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Israeli police broke into Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque on Monday morning, forcibly removing two women and a man.

Earlier on Monday, dozens of Jewish settlers broke into the courtyards of Al Aqsa Mosque compound under the protection of Israeli police, Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.

The incursion risks inflaming tensions over Sukkot, a Jewish holiday during which an increased number of Jews have entered the flashpoint compound, the third holiest site in Islam.

Witnesses reported that groups of settlers had been entering the compound since Sunday through the Moroccan Gate, also known as the Mughrabi Gate. Those entering had been performing Talmudic rituals in its courtyards as Jews observe Sukkot.

Al Aqsa Mosque compound is a site considered holy by Muslims, Jews and Christians.

The week-long Jewish holiday began at sundown on Friday. Israeli authorities typically close border crossings from the Palestinian territories of the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank during holidays.

“Large groups of settlers wandered through the alleys of the Old City of occupied Jerusalem and performed Talmudic rituals at the gates of Al Aqsa, specifically at the Silsila and Al Qattanin gates,” Wafa reported, adding that the settlers were protected by Israeli police.

It was reported that Israeli police imposed restrictions on the entry of Palestinians, checking their identities and detaining some at Al Aqsa gates over the weekend.

There was no immediate comment from Israeli authorities about increased security restrictions in Jerusalem.

Large crowds of religious Jews are expected to continue visiting Al Aqsa during Sukkot, raising fears that tensions could rise.

On Sunday, the Islamic Waqf Department, which is in charge of affairs at Al Aqsa Mosque, said Israeli forces closed the Moroccan Gate “after allowing 602 Jewish extremists” into the site.

Hamas said the Israeli government had launched “a religious war” against the holy site to “implement its plan of dividing it by any means”.

Israeli police began allowing the settler incursions into Al Aqsa Mosque complex in 2003, despite repeated condemnations from Palestinians.

Israel came under widespread international condemnation during the first two weeks of Ramadan this year after its forces entered the Al Aqsa Mosque on a number of occasions.

Updated: October 02, 2023, 12:37 PM