Israeli police fires rubber bullets in new Al-Aqsa incursion

Al-Jazeera  /  April 21, 2022

Israeli forces use tear gas and rubber bullets against worshippers at dawn prayers, Palestinians respond with stones and petrol bombs.

Israeli police forces have launched a new incursion into Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, wounding dozens of Palestinians, according to medical sources.

A medic, who was inside the compound reported 30 people injured by the use of pepper spray and rubber bullets to their arms and legs.

Nidal Hijazi, from the Sama al-Quds medical services association in Old City, said that one person was transferred to hospital with a rubber bullet to his back.

Palestinian media reported on Thursday that Israeli forces targeted worshippers with tear gas and rubber bullets during dawn prayers and that Palestinian youth responded with stones and petrol bombs.

Reporting from Jerusalem, Al-Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker said Israeli forces fired stun grenades, rubber bullets and pepper spray at Palestinian worshippers on the site.

She added that Palestinian youth shot fireworks from Al-Qibly Mosque at far-right Israeli settler groups that passed through the compound to mark Passover.

“What’s significant is that this will be the last time. The Israeli government has banned these groups from entering Al-Aqsa Mosque compound until the end of Ramadan.

“These visits, by ultra-right-wing Israeli nationalists, have changed in nature [over the years]. They are calling for the right to pray on the compound,” said Dekker, explaining that this challenges the status quo agreed upon between Israel and Jordan in 1967 and which bans non-Muslims from praying on the site.

A surge of violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory over the past month has raised fears of a slide back to a wider conflict following last May’s 11-day Israeli assault on Gaza, in which more than 250 Palestinians in Gaza and 13 people in Israel were killed.

Meanwhile, for the second time this week, Israel carried out air raids in the central Gaza Strip on Thursday, with its military saying its fighter jets attacked an underground complex used to produce rocket engines.

There were no immediate reports of casualties. Witnesses told Al Jazeera that the attacks damaged several homes in the Al-Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza.

Earlier in the night, a rocket fired from Gaza struck southern Israel, causing slight damage to a house but no injuries, Israeli police said. Four more rockets were also fired from Gaza, the Israeli military said, following its raids on the besieged coastal enclave, but were intercepted by air defence systems.

‘Death to Arabs’

Early on Wednesday evening, Israeli police blocked more than 1,000 ultra-nationalist demonstrators waving Israeli flags, some shouting “death to the Arabs”, from reaching Damascus Gate and the Old City’s Muslim quarter.

Far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir, a controversial opposition politician, led the protest after being barred from the Damascus Gate area earlier in the day by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

“I’ll say it clearly, I’m not going to blink, not going to fold,” Ben Gvir told the AFP news agency  as his supporters chanted “Bennett, go home!”

“I’m not allowed to enter Damascus Gate,” the former lawyer said. “Based on what law?”

Bennett said earlier that he had blocked the rally for security reasons.

“I have no intention of allowing petty politics to endanger human lives,” he said.

“I will not allow a political provocation by Ben Gvir to endanger …[Israeli army] soldiers and Israeli police officers, and render their already heavy task even heavier.”

Ben Gvir retorted on Thursday that “some Jews don’t surrender to Hamas”, referring to the group that governs the besieged Gaza Strip.

‘Deeply concerned’

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres said he was “deeply concerned by the deteriorating situation in Jerusalem”.

He added that he was in contact with the parties to press them “to do all they can to lower tensions, avoid inflammatory actions and rhetoric”.

In March, Israeli forces killed at least 29 Palestinians in raids on the West Bank as 14 people in Israel were killed in street attacks.

Israeli riot police also stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque compound last week, wounding at least 158 Palestinian Muslim worshippers.

Tensions this year have been heightened in part by the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which coincided with the Jewish celebration of Passover.

Palestinians accuse Israel of encroaching at Al-Aqsa by allowing Jewish worshippers into the sacred compound. They say the move is a violation of a policy under which non-Muslims may visit, but not pray. Israeli leaders have said they are ensuring freedom of worship for all religions in Jerusalem.

Al-Aqsa is the third-holiest site in Islam and is also revered by Jews as the location of two ancient temples.

Palestinians want occupied East Jerusalem, including its Muslim, Christian and Jewish holy sites, as the capital of a future state.

Israel, which annexed East Jerusalem in a move not internationally recognized after capturing the area in the 1967 war, regards all of Jerusalem as its eternal capital.