'I heard the screams of worshipers': Eyewitnesses describe Israeli forces' attack on Al-Aqsa

'I heard the screams of worshipers': Eyewitnesses describe Israeli forces' attack on Al-Aqsa
6 min read
West Bank
06 April, 2023
"Many outlets described what happened as confrontations or riots, but I saw none of that," noted Kawasmi. "It was a clear aggression on people who were worshipping in their holy place."
Israeli forces arrested some 440 Palestinians during the rid, most of whom were later released. [Getty]

Israeli police raids on the Al-Aqsa mosque on Tuesday and Wednesday are "an aggression", eyewitnesses told The New Arab on Thursday.

Between Tuesday and Wednesday, Israeli police raided the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, injuring and arresting hundreds of Palestinian worshipers.

The raid arrived during the third week of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, during which Palestinian Muslim worshipers traditionally gather in the Al-Aqsa compound, the third holy shrine of Islam, to perform prayers throughout the night.

"The occupation police arrested 440 worshipers during the violent raids between Tuesday and Wednesday," Amjad Abu Asab, the head of the Jerusalem detainees' families committee, said to TNA on Thursday.

"All of the detainees were released except six," added Abu Asab. "On Thursday, the occupation forces arrested four more Palestinians in the holy compound and its surroundings, who remain detained until the moment."

Raids began on Tuesday following several days of tension around the Al-Aqsa compound, fueled by calls by Israeli fanatical settler groups to storm the holy place and perform Jewish Passover sacrifice inside the compound. Israeli police stopped at least two attempts by Israeli settlers attempting to perform animal sacrifices in the compound, according to Jerusalem-based Palestinian media.

"Shortly after midnight of Monday to Tuesday, tensions were very high at the entrances of Al-Aqsa, when some young men confronted Israeli settlers," Amir Maragha, a human rights lawyer resident of Silwan, the Palestinian Jerusalem-town located at the foot of Al-Aqsa compound, told TNA.

"One settler opened fire and wounded a 15-year-old boy from Silwan in the stomach near one of Al-Aqsa entrances," said Maragha. "I was among a small number of people who rushed with the wounded boy to the hospital, where the occupation police came and arrested him, still wounded, and took him to another hospital where he remains detained."

"Police concentrated around Al-Aqsa throughout the day on Tuesday, then the raid began after the Ramadan breakfast in the evening," noted Maragha.

"In Silwan, I heard the screams of worshipers coming from within the holy compound, and minutes later, me and my family heard stun grenades as loud as if they were thrown inside our house," he went on.

"Shortly after that, young men from Silwan began to run by the dozens to Al-Aqsa, but they were stopped by the police at the Lions' Gate, where many of them were arrested."

During the raid, Israeli police forcibly evacuated the compound of Palestinian worshipers, including hundreds who took refuge inside the Qibli mosque at the southern edge of the compound. Israeli media quoted the Israeli police claiming that "they had entered to dislodge 'agitators' who had barricaded themselves inside with fireworks."

"The night prayers that follow the 'Iftar' (the time to break fast during Ramadan) had ended, and I was in the compounds outside courtyards when the occupation police entered from the 'Magharbi' gate of the compound and locked all other entrances," Seif Kawasmi, a Palestinian Jerusalem-based journalist, told TNA.

"Some 300 worshipers took refuge inside the Qibli mosque, while hundreds more were being violently evacuated by the police from the courtyards, many of them women and children, beaten up by police officers with batons," said Kawasmi.

"One police officer came towards me raising his baton, so I showed my press card and said I was a journalist, but he beat me in the legs, ordering me to leave the compound," Kawasmi described.

"Some police officers climbed on the roof of the Qibli mosque and began to fire rubber bullets from windows directly down at the people inside, then they broke in and began to arrest everybody," he added.

"When I exited the compound, I saw a young man bleeding from his head, another woman who was beaten in the arm and many more who were injured," he said.

"Many outlets described what happened as confrontations or riots, but I saw none of that," noted Kawasmi. "It was a clear aggression on people who were worshipping in their holy place."

Israeli forces' raid on Al-Aqsa was criticised and condemned by Palestinian, Arab and international officials.

On Wednesday, the spokesperson of the Palestinian presidency, Nabil Abu Rdeineh, said in press remarks that "Israeli occupation insists on desecrating Al-Aqsa mosque and creating an atmosphere of instability," describing the raid as "a blow to the US efforts to maintain calm and stability during the holy month of Ramadan".

The League of Arab States also condemned the raid in a statement and called upon the UN Security Council's permanent members "to assume their legal, moral and human responsibility towards events in Palestine, and stop Israel’s aggression on the Al-Aqsa mosque".

For its part, the European Union said it was "deeply concerned by violence in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque," calling to "maintain the status quo in the holy places". Similarly, the US 'Office of Palestinian Affairs' in Jerusalem said in a statement it was "alarmed by the shocking scenes in Al Aqsa Mosque and rockets launched from Gaza toward Israel", adding that "violence has no place in a holy site and during a holy season".

Israeli forces have been raiding Al-Aqsa mosque during Ramadan for the past three years.

In 2021, Israeli raids on Al-Aqsa during Ramadan coincided with a wave of Palestinian protests against Israeli expulsion attempts on Palestinian families in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.

The Gaza-based Palestinian faction Hamas responded to both events by launching rockets into Israel, starting an 11-day military confrontation between Israel and Palestinian armed factions. The confrontation resulted in the killing of more than 200 Palestinians by Israeli air strikes, including 70 children and 40 women. Israeli sources reported that 13 Israelis were killed by Palestinian rocket fire.