An Israeli occupation soldier pushes a Palestinian woman after Muslim worshippers were denied access to the Al Aqsa mosque compound in occupied Jerusalem. Image Credit: AFP

Ramallah: Hundreds of Israeli ultra-orthodox colonists led by the Netanyahu government’s Minister for Agriculture Uri Ariel raided Al Aqsa mosque on Sunday seeking to carry out Tisha B’Av rituals.

The raid triggered fierce clashes with Palestinians and the Al Murabiteen who are tasked with protecting the holy site, leaving tens of Palestinians wounded and hospitalised. Several other defenders of the holy site were arrested by a large Israeli police contingent backing up the colonists.

Sources in occupied East Jerusalem told Gulf News that Palestinians who remained in Al Aqsa Mosque overnight and those who managed to enter the mosque for dawn prayers came under a barrage of tear gas canisters, rubber coated bullets and pepper gas as Israeli forces sought to help hundreds of Israeli colonists enter the mosque. Once the clashes started, Israeli police sealed off all the mosque’s gates, denying Palestinians all access to the holy site.

For the past month, ultra-orthodox Jews have been campaigning for a ban on Muslims at Al Aqsa mosque along with the highest possible turnout of Jewish visitors for the Tisha B’Av, an annual day of fasting for Jews to commemorate several historic calamities including the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem during the Roman empire.

Sources at the holy site said that the Israeli police cleared the paths, halls and gardens of Al Aqsa mosque, which the colonists sought to visit, after pledging to provide protection for colonists who carried out the raid. Tho colonists forced their way into the mosque in groups of about 40 each. The first group included Israeli Agriculture Minister Ariel who had earlier submitted a request to the Israeli police seeking protection for the Jewish raiders.

Colonists usually raid Al Aqsa mosque via Al Maghrebah gate, which is under full Israeli control.

The sources said that the Israelis forced Palestinians who were already within Al Aqsa mosque into Al Qibli Mosque, where they were held.

According to Mazen Abu Qalbain, an activist and former spokesperson for Al Murabiteen in Al Aqsa mosque, both the Palestinian and Jordanian leaderships had committed a historic mistake when they agreed to consider visits by Jewish visitors to the halls and gardens of Al Aqsa mosque’s public parks because it gave the colonists the chance to carry out incursions into the holy site daily.

“Colonists do not enter the mosque as visitors or tourists, but as real owners of the holy mosque,” Abu Qalbain told Gulf News, adding that colonists usually enter the mosque barefoot to perform their rituals in a provocative way. “Non-Muslims are not allowed to pray or perform rituals in the mosque during this time. The entire area [a total of 144 dunums of land] is the sacred Al Aqsa mosque,” he said.

He said that the colonists behave in a completely different way from Christians visitors to the mosque who are usually introduced by to the facilities, halls and gardens by teams who are in charge of the mosque. Christian visitors are in fact welcomed by Muslims, he said. “Colonists, on the other hand, handle the place as if it is theirs and Muslims are taking it over by force. They believe the Jews should take it,” he said.

Abu Qalbain said that the number of the Al Murabiteen entrusted protection of the mosque was about 1,500 men a decade ago but their current number was lower than 70 with many of them being aged men.