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Israeli police storm al-Aqsa mosque for the second time on Wednesday

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Israeli police stormed the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, one of Islam’s holiest sites, for the second time on Wednesday, hours after they first raided the compound and arrested hundreds of Palestinians despite condemnations from the Arab and Muslim world.

The clashes, which took place as al-Aqsa sees worshipers offer prayers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and Jews celebrate Passover on Wednesday evening, sparked retaliatory rocket fire from militants in Gaza.

Israeli police said in a statement that its forces entered al-Aqsa after “hundreds of rioters and mosque desecrators (had) barricaded themselves” inside. “When the police entered, stones were thrown at them, and fireworks were fired from inside the mosque by a large group of agitators,” according to the statement.

The Palestinian Red Crescent in Jerusalem said at least 12 people were injured during clashes in and around the mosque, and at least three of the injured were transferred to hospital, some with injuries from rubber bullets.

The Red Crescent added that at one point its ambulances were targeted by police and were prevented from reaching the injured.

Police said they arrested and removed more than 350 people in the mosque, and that two Israeli police officer were wounded.

Images shared on social media showed dozens of detained people lying facedown on the floor of the mosque with their legs and arms bound behind their backs, and others with their hands tied being led into a vehicle.

During the second incident on Wednesday evening, armed Israeli forces deployed stun grenades and ordered Muslims worshipping there to leave immediately, video posted to social media shows.

The Israeli police said in a statement that “dozens of law-breaking juveniles, some of them masked” had thrown fireworks and stones into the mosque and tried to barricade themselves inside.

“The police forces prevented the lawbreakers from closing the doors and from barricading themselves (inside), and helped the worshipers leave the Mosque,” Israeli police said.

The Palestinian Red Crescent in Jerusalem treated six people for their injuries and transferred two of them to hospital.

Growing condemnation

Wednesday morning’s incident drew condemnation from across the Arab and Muslim world. Jordan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the Israeli police actions “in the strongest terms,” and called on Israel to immediately remove its forces from the mosque. Jordan has also called for an extraordinary meeting of the Arab League to discuss the development.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry meanwhile condemned the “storming” of the mosque by police, saying it had caused “numerous injuries among worshipers and devotees” and was “in violation of all international laws and customs.”

The US Office of Palestinian Affairs called for restraint following Wednesday morning’s raid, saying on Twitter: “Violence has no place in a holy site and during a holy season. Alarmed by the shocking scenes in Al Aqsa Mosque and rockets launched from Gaza toward Israel. We call for restraint and de-escalation to allow peaceful worship and to protect the sanctity of the holy sites.”

‘A major crime against worshipers’

Over the last two weeks, there have been calls by Jewish extremist groups to slaughter goats at the mosque compound as part of an ancient Passover holiday ritual that is no longer practiced by most Jews. A greater number of Muslim worshipers stayed in the mosque after calls came to prevent those attempts.

Last week, a Palestinian man was shot and killed by Israeli police at the entrance of the compound. Palestinian and Israeli sources disputed the circumstances that led to the killing of 26-year-old Muhammad Al-Osaibi.

The mosque compound, frequently a flashpoint in tensions, is home to one of Islam’s most revered sites but also the holiest site in Judaism, known as the Temple Mount.

In a statement Wednesday, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh condemned the actions of the Israeli police, saying: “What is happening in Jerusalem is a major crime against worshipers.”

“Israel does not want to learn from history, that al-Aqsa is for the Palestinians and for all Arabs and Muslims, and that storming it sparked a revolution against the occupation,” Shtayyeh added.

Bushinsky added he thought it was in Netanyahu’s interests to ease tensions

Bushinsky said that the average Israeli would not, however, support any extreme Israeli measures against Palestinians in Jerusalem as that would be “too risky.”

“I think it is in the interest of Netanyahu and even Ben Gvir to try to ease the tension in the Al Aqsa mosque,” he said. “Because when there is a rupture there, it affects the entire Arab world, and we feel it.”

Gaza rockets

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said Wednesday that around 12 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel after the incident in Jerusalem.

Two were fired late on Wednesday, the IDF said. Earlier in the day, 10 rockets were fired from Gaza towards Israel, five of which fell in open fields and one that fell on a factory in Sderot leaving no casualties, the IDF Spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari had said in a previous statement.

Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, the militant group that runs Gaza, said in a statement that “the current Israeli occupation’s crimes at the al-Aqsa mosque are unprecedented violations that will not pass.”

Later on Wednesday, the Israeli military said its fighter jets had struck weapons manufacturing and storage sites in the Gaza Strip belonging to Hamas.

“This strike was carried out in response to rockets fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israeli territory earlier,” it said in a statement.

Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Wednesday “we will hit anyone who tries to harm us, and exact a heavy price that will make them regret threatening Israeli citizens or IDF troops.”

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