Israeli forces attack Palestinian worshippers in Al-Aqsa Mosque raid

An Israeli Border Police officer lifts his baton in front of the Dome of the Rock Mosque (AFP)

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  April 15, 2022

At least 152 Palestinians injured as Israeli forces fire rubber-coated steel bullets, teargas and stun grenades during dawn assault.

Israeli forces have attacked Palestinian worshippers inside Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem during an early morning raid on Friday, injuring and arresting dozens of people. 

Scores of worshippers were injured as Israeli security officers fired rubber-coated steel bullets, teargas and stun grenades inside the courtyards and prayer halls of the mosque.

The Palestine Red Crescent said 152 people have been evacuated from the mosque and transferred to nearby hospitals, including many with upper body wounds. Al-Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem said they had received 40 injured people from Al-Aqsa, two of them with critical injuries. 

Around 400 people were arrested during the raid, according to Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani, the director of Al-Aqsa Mosque.

“The occupation aims to create chaos and assert themselves on Al-Aqsa,” Kiswani said during a phone interview with Al-Jazeera Arabic. “They left the mosque in ruins.

“What happened today is an attack on all peaceful worshippers. This was a barbaric premeditated attack on worshippers.”  

Medics prevented from entering

The raid began shortly after dawn prayer was finished, around 5.30am local time, and continued until around 9.30am.

Israeli forces stormed the courtyards of the mosque from several gates, climbed the roof of the Qibli prayer hall – the main building on the site from where congregational prayers are led – and proceeded to fire at worshippers, preventing medics from accessing the building to treat the injured.

Footage shared online showed teargas and stun grenades being fired inside the silver-domed prayer hall. 

After four hours of assaults, Israeli forces cleared all the mosque’s courtyards of almost all worshippers. They then moved in on worshippers inside the Qibli prayer hall who refused to be forced out. Dozens of Israeli officers forced their way in and fired directly at them, before arresting at least 80.

The buildings inside the complex were damaged in the attack, with some of its historical windows smashed by Israeli forces, according to eyewitnesses. 

Medics, journalists, mosque volunteers and women were targeted, according to Palestinian media reports. Journalists Muhammad Samreen and Rami al-Khateeb were among those injured. At least one child was detained.

Meanwhile, Israeli guards stationed at the mosque’s gate stopped Palestinians from entering the site ahead of Friday prayers, due to start at around 1pm local time. Worshippers coming from the occupied West Bank and within Israel were allowed to enter shortly after. 

‘Barbaric aggression’

The Jordanian foreign ministry called on Israeli authorities to immediately remove the police and special forces from the mosque courtyards.

Haitham Abu al-Ful, the ministry’s spokesperson, warned against the consequences of this “dangerous escalation” and held Israeli authorities responsible for the safety of al-Aqsa Mosque and worshipers.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, the official spokesperson for the Palestinian presidency, called the raid a “dangerous development and desecration of sanctities”.

“What is required is the immediate intervention of all international parties to stop this barbaric Israeli aggression on Al-Aqsa Mosque, so that things do not get out of control,” Abu Rudeineh said.

Fawzi Barhoum, the spokesperson for the Palestinian movement Hamas, condemned what he called the “brutal attacks by the Israeli occupation”.

“Israel bears all the responsibility of its actions and the risks it takes against our Palestinian people and our people in Jerusalem who are fighting a real battle in defending Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

The Joint List, a coalition of Palestinian lawmakers in the Israeli parliament, accused the government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of trying to “escalate its Judaization of Jerusalem”.

“The Palestinian people have never stopped the struggle against the occupation, and they will continue with greater force until the end of this occupation,” the coalition said in a statement.

The raid came on the second Friday of Ramadan, the holiest month of the year for Muslims, when tens of thousands of worshippers flock to Al-Aqsa to pray.

It also precedes the Jewish holiday of Passover, set to start on Friday and last until 23 April, during which far-right Israeli settlers have vowed to raid al-Aqsa Mosque and slaughter animals inside its courtyard as a religious sacrifice.

Such groups also advocate for the destruction of the mosque, where they believe two ancient Jewish temples once stood, to make way for a third temple.

Last year, multiple violent raids by Israeli forces inside Al-Aqsa Mosque prompted widespread demonstrations across the occupied West Bank and by the Palestinian community inside Israel, leading to an 11-day war between Israel and armed groups in Gaza.

Israel’s large-scale military operation on the besieged Gaza Strip killed 256 Palestinians, including 66 children, according to the UN. In Israel, 13 people were killed by rockets launched from Gaza.