clashes in the Al-Aqsa mosque, Hamas denounces an “unprecedented crime”
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Hamas called early Wednesday to “go en masse to the Al-Aqsa mosque to defend it” after an overnight intervention by the Israeli police to dislodge “rioters” there. Shortly thereafter, several rockets were fired from the northern Gaza Strip towards Israeli territory.
Violent clashes pitted the Israeli police on Wednesday night, April 5, against what they described as “rioters” in the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, one of the most emblematic Muslim places of worship in the world.
Denouncing “an unprecedented crime”, the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, in power in the Gaza Strip, called on the Palestinians of the West Bank “to go en masse to the Al-Aqsa mosque to defend it”.
It is located on the esplanade of the Mosques, the third holiest site in Islam, in East Jerusalem, the Palestinian sector of the Holy City occupied and annexed by Israel. The Esplanade is built on what the Jews call the Temple Mount, the holiest place in Judaism.
This violence occurs shortly before the middle of Ramadan and as the Jews prepare to celebrate Easter from Wednesday evening, and in a climate of rising tensions between Israelis and Palestinians since the beginning of the year.
Israeli police have released video footage of more than 50 seconds showing explosions of what appear to be fireworks inside the place of worship, including figures throwing rocks. Another police video footage shows riot police advancing through the mosque shielding themselves from rocket fire with shields.
Footage then shows a barricaded door, batteries of fireworks on a carpet on the floor, and police evacuating at least five people with their hands cuffed behind their backs.
“Tonight, as the police worked to allow large numbers of Muslims to celebrate the month of Ramadan and arrive in the Old City of Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount, several young masked outlaws and agitators brought inside the mosque [Al-Aqsa] fireworks, sticks and stones,” the Israeli police wrote in a statement. “The ringleaders barricaded themselves there several hours after [les dernières prières du soir] in order to undermine public order and desecrate the mosque”, while chanting “slogans inciting hatred and violence”, adds the text.
“After numerous and long unsuccessful attempts to get them out through dialogue, the police forces were forced [d’intervenir] to dislodge them in order to allow the holding [des premières prières de l’aube] and prevent violent disturbances,” police said.
During the intervention, “a large group of agitators” fired fireworks and threw stones inside the mosque towards the police, writes the police, indicating that an officer was injured by a stone in the leg. The police “arrested the rioters”, who “caused damage to the mosque and desecrated it”, adds the text without specifying the number of people detained.
Demonstration in Gaza
After the announcement of the clashes at the Al-Aqsa mosque, several rockets were fired from the northern Gaza Strip towards Israeli territory. AFP journalists saw three rockets fire from afar, and witnesses said they saw others. The Israeli army reported the triggering of warning sirens in several Israeli urban areas around the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli army indicated for its part that five rockets fired in the direction of Israeli territory had been “intercepted by the anti-aircraft defense” in the area of Sderot (southern Israel), and that four other rockets had fallen into uninhabited areas. None of these shootings were claimed.
In Gaza, a few dozen demonstrators took to the streets in several places overnight, burning tires. “We swear to defend and protect the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” they proclaimed.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry issued a statement “condemning the intrusion of the Israeli police inside [de la mosquée] Al-Aqsa and the aggression against the faithful”. “Egypt holds Israel, the occupying power, as responsible for this dangerous escalation which could undermine the truce efforts”, adds the text.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been sucked into a spiral of violence since the beginning of the year after one of the most right-wing governments in Israel’s history took office at the end of December.
The violence has claimed nearly 110 lives since the start of the year and resumed over the weekend after a semblance of a lull observed since the start of Ramadan on March 23.