Hundreds of Jewish settlers forced their way into Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque complex on Thursday, according to a Palestinian agency.
“Around 920 Jewish settlers have entered the compound, accompanied by Israeli police,” the Religious Endowments Authority, a Jordan-run agency responsible for overseeing the city’s Muslim and Christian holy sites, said in a statement.
It said the settlers entered through the compound’s al-Mugharbah Gate, where they tried to perform Talmudic rituals.
Al-Aqsa represents the world’s third-holiest site for Muslims, while Jews refer to the area as the “Temple Mount,” claiming it was the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times.
Israel occupied east Jerusalem, where Al-Aqsa is located, during the 1967 Six-Day War.
There has been a significant increase in the number of extremist Jews raiding the mosque lately. Last week, scores of extremist Jews safeguarded by the Israeli police raided Al-Aqsa Mosque. About 228 extremists entered the mosque.
According to a 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan, all waqfs in Jerusalem are under the protection of the administration of Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, which functions under Jordan’s Ministry of Awqaf, Islamic Affairs and Holy Places. A waqf is an Islamic endowment of property held in trust and used for a charitable or religious purpose.
Jews, who used to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque with permission from the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf before, regularly enter the Muslim shrine in line with Israel’s unilateral decision, which violates the waqf’s sovereignty.
The waqf, which does not recognize Israel’s unilateral decision, describes such entries by Jews as raids.
The area where the mosque is built is referred to as the Temple Mount by the Jews. It is central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a flashpoint issue, with Palestinians fearing Israel may one day seek to assert further control over the site. It is located in east Jerusalem, which was annexed in 1980 by Israeli forces under the claim that the city serves as the capital of the Jewish state, a move never recognized by the international community. It ranks only after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia as far as the holiest sites in Islam and is the most sacred site in Judaism.
Jews are allowed on the premises to visit but not to pray, to avoid provoking tensions.
Muslims believe that the first qiblah, the direction where Muslims turn during prayers, was at Al-Aqsa Mosque until it was designated as Mecca. Moreover, the existence of the Qubbat-us Sahra within the compound makes it more special as it is believed that the Prophet Muhammad started his spiritual journey to heaven (miraj) from there.
Since Israel occupied Jerusalem in 1967, the conflict has continued between Palestinians and Israelis, as the latter believe that the holy temple of Solomon is beneath the mosque. There are several rumors claiming that some Israelis were digging tunnels to reach the temple’s ruins.