Israel police brutally beats, arrests hundreds of worshipers in Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa compound
Israeli police brutally attacked and arrested hundreds of worshipers inside the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem early Wednesday, a move denounced as an "unprecedented crime" by the Palestinian movements, human rights organisations and neighbouring countries like Egypt.
Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, called on Palestinians in the West Bank "to go en masse to the Al-Aqsa mosque to defend it".
Israeli police claimed they had entered the mosque to dislodge "agitators" who had barricaded themselves inside with fireworks, sticks and stones.
The mosque compound in the Israeli-annexed Old City of east Jerusalem has previously seen increasing violence by Israelis, particularly during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which draws tens of thousands of worshippers to Al-Aqsa.
The holy Muslim site is built on top of what Jews call the Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site.
The fresh violence by the Israeli police comes nearly halfway through Ramadan and as Jews prepare to celebrate Passover on Wednesday evening.
BREAKING: Israeli police brutally beat Palestinian worshippers inside al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem during Ramadan. pic.twitter.com/IiFU10qI5c— IMEU (@theIMEU) April 4, 2023
Israeli police claimed they were "forced to enter" the mosque after "several law-breaking youths and masked agitators" barricaded themselves inside.
"These instigators fortified it, hours after the (last evening) Taraweeh prayer in order to disrupt public order and desecrate the mosque," the police claimed in a statement.
"After many and prolonged attempts to get them out by talking to no avail, police forces were forced to enter the compound in order to get them out with the intentions to allow the Fajr (dawn) prayer and to prevent a violent disturbance," they added.
"When the police entered, stones were thrown at them and fireworks were fired from inside the mosque by a large group of agitators," they continued, adding that one officer was injured in the leg by a stone.
Israeli police claimed its forces "detained the rioters", who "caused damage to the mosque and desecrated it", the statement said, without specifying the number of people detained.
Israeli police also said they had "arrested and removed over 350 individuals that violently barricaded" themselves inside the mosque in the Old City of annexed east Jerusalem.
After the announcement of the clashes at Al-Aqsa, several rockets were fired from the northern besieged Gaza Strip towards Israeli territory, according to AFP journalists and witnesses.
This is horrifying.— Mariam Barghouti مريم البرغوثي (@MariamBarghouti) April 4, 2023
Scenes coming out of Aqsa mosque of Israeli forces attacking worshippers. pic.twitter.com/0x2lTgsETm
AFP journalists said they saw three rockets fired from afar and witnesses said they saw others, while the Israeli army reported rocket warning sirens had been triggered in several Israeli urban centres around the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli army said five rockets fired from the Gaza Strip were intercepted by the aerial defence system around Sderot in southern Israel, and that four others had fallen in uninhabited areas.
Israeli fighter jets later struck two Hamas weapons manufacturing sites in the central Gaza Strip "in response" to the rocket fire, the army said.
The air raids were followed by new rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, and at around 6:15 am (0415 GMT), Israeli jets carried out fresh strikes on the territory, according to AFP journalists.
No injuries were reported after the first series of raids.
Earlier in Gaza, dozens of demonstrators took to the streets overnight, burning tyres.
"We swear to defend and protect the Al-Aqsa mosque," they said.
Egypt condemned the Israeli police's "storming" of the mosque and "the accompanying blatant attacks" on worshippers.
"Egypt holds Israel, the occupying power, responsible for this dangerous escalation which could undermine the truce efforts in which Egypt is engaged with its regional and international partners," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been sucked into a spiral of violence since the start of the year after one of the most right-wing governments in Israel's history took office at the end of December.
The conflict has claimed the lives of at least 91 Palestinians, 15 Israelis and one Ukrainian since January, according to an AFP tally based on official sources from both sides.
On the Palestinian side, the figures include combatants as well as civilians. On the Israeli side, they include two Palestinians with Israeli citizenship.