Palestinian officials said Israeli forces stormed the Al Aqsa Mosque complex, where they arrested at least three people. Israelis said they evacuated the compound after a Molotov cocktail damaged a security post.
Israeli forces have closed several entrances to East Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al Aqsa Mosque complex amid ongoing clashes with Palestinian worshippers, a Palestinian official said on Tuesday.
“Dozens of Israeli soldiers stormed the al Aqsa compound and assaulted religious figures,” Firas al Dibs, a spokesman for Jerusalem’s Religious Endowments Authority, a Jordan-run agency tasked with overseeing the city's Muslim and Christian sites, said in a statement.
Israeli forces said they evacuated the compound after a Molotov cocktail damaged a security post.
Three people were arrested, Israelis said, while the Palestinian Red Crescent reported two people hurt.
Residents said police were also restricting Palestinian access to Jerusalem's Old City, where the site is located.
According to Dibs, Al Aqsa Mosque Director Omar Kiswani and Sheikh Wasef al Bakri, the acting supreme judge of Jerusalem’s Islamic Courts, were among those assaulted by Israeli security forces.
Baton-wielding police, Dibs said, had attacked dozens of Muslim worshippers earlier Tuesday near the Al Aqsa compound’s iconic Dome of the Rock Mosque.
“At least five Palestinians were arrested before being taken into custody for further investigation,” he added.
In a subsequent statement, Dibs said that Israeli forces had expelled all Muslim worshippers from inside the mosque complex, during which at least 10 of the latter were assaulted.
He went on to assert that a fire that erupted inside the mosque complex, used to justify the expulsion of worshippers, had been started by police.
“Everything that happened was orchestrated by the police,” he said.
The Dar Al-Hijrah community stands appalled by the scenes coming out of Al-Aqsa mosque today. While on vacation, Sisters Nour and Safa Hawash, 2 staff members from our Communications Department and American citizens, were senselessly assaulted by Israeli security forces today pic.twitter.com/TLhYl4mMBZ— Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center (@hijrahva) March 12, 2019
The Palestinian Presidency, meanwhile, has condemned the reported escalations.
According to a statement published by Palestine’s WAFA news agency, President Mahmoud Abbas is maintaining "intensive contacts" with all relevant parties in hopes of defusing the situation.
He has also called on the international community to intervene, accusing Israeli forces and settlers of “consistently violating the sanctity of the mosque and provoking the sentiments of Muslims.”
Tensions mounted in Jerusalem last month, when Israeli forces briefly sealed the Al Aqsa compound’s Al Rahma Gate, located adjacent to the eastern wall of the Old City, sparking angry Palestinian demonstrations.
In the weeks since, the Israeli authorities have banned scores of Palestinians, including religious officials, from entering Al Aqsa, which for Muslims represents the world’s third holiest site.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem, in which Al Aqsa is located, during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. It annexed the entire city in 1980 in a move never recognised by the international community.