JERUSALEM (AA) – Hundreds of Jewish settlers stormed East Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Thursday, according to a Palestinian official.
“Over 310 Jewish extremists backed by Israeli police officers have forced their way into the compound since morning,” Firas al-Dib, a spokesman for Jerusalem’s Jordan-run Religious Endowments Authority, told Anadolu Agency.
Settlers, he said, had entered the compound through the Al-Mugharbah Gate before performing Jewish religious rituals near the Dome of the Rock Mosque.
Since the week-long Jewish Passover holiday began last Friday, over 2,000 Israeli settlers have entered the religious site, according to estimates.
Passover, which commemorates the ancient Israelites’ exodus from Egypt under Prophet Moses, is considered one of the most important holidays on the Jewish religious calendar.
For Muslims, Al-Aqsa represents the world’s third holiest site. Jews, for their part, refer to the area as the “Temple Mount”, claiming it was the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times.
In the West Bank city of Nablus, meanwhile, hundreds of extremist Jewish settlers — backed by Israeli army troops — pushed their way into a religious shrine at dawn Friday, sparking clashes with local Palestinians.
Ahmed Shamekh, an official at the nearby Balata refugee camp, told Anadolu Agency that at least 1,000 Jewish settlers had entered the site where they, too, had performed “Talmudic rituals”.
The settlers, he said, were accompanied by scores of Israeli soldiers and at least ten military vehicles.
Dozens of Palestinian youths had converged on the site in an effort to block the incursion, Shamekh added, but were quickly dispersed by Israeli soldiers firing teargas, rubber bullets and live ammunition.
The site, which Jews refer to as “Joseph’s Tomb”, has long been a flashpoint for Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Jews claim the site is the burial place of the biblical patriarch Joseph. Palestinians, however, challenge this assertion, saying a celebrated Muslim cleric — Sheikh Youssef Dawiqat — was buried there two centuries ago.