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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Israeli settlers break into Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem

The groups entered the holy site and performed Jewish rituals

Palestinian people walk in front of the Dome of the Rock at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem. AFP
Palestinian people walk in front of the Dome of the Rock at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem. AFP

Israeli settlers broke into the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem on Sunday under the protection of Israeli police, according to Palestinian news agency Wafa.

The agency reported that the settlers, divided into groups, broke into the site through the Bab Al Magharba Gate and proceeded to take tours in close proximity to the mosque where they performed Jewish rituals. The police provided “intense protection” for the groups, it said.

The Palestinians are seeking East Jerusalem as its capital of any future sovereign state, alongside the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Israel considers the entire city to be its undivided capital. The compound that sits in the territory hosts the Haram Al Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, regarded as the third-holiest site in Islam.

Jewish violations of the status quo at the site have threatened to heighten tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. A visit to the site by Ariel Sharon, then Israeli opposition leader, in 2000 is widely viewed as a key spark of the Second Intifada.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had barred politicians from entering the compound since October 2015 but relaxed those rules in July, allowing them to visit once every three months.

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Palestinians fear that Israelis will try to assert their control over the compound and eventually take it over. Israel says those rumours are unfounded and spread to cause disquiet.

The site is contested by both Muslims and Jews, who believe the Temple Mount to be the holiest site in Judaism. Jews cannot pray at the site but the Palestinians believe that some nationalist factions in Israel seek to change the status quo at the compound.

Jordan has routinely condemned the Israeli violations and provocations at the holy site. It is the custodian of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem and is part of an Islamic waqf, or trust, that has presided over the Al Aqsa Mosque compound since Israel seized East Jerusalem in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. It later annexed the territory in 1980 in a move considered illegal under international law.

The issue of Jerusalem is arguably more provocative than ever. US President Donald Trump fulfilled a campaign promise in May, relocating the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, effectively recognising the contested city as Israel’s capital. Several Latin American countries soon followed suit, despite international condemnation of the move.