Israeli forces entered the al-Aqsa Mosque compound's southern mosque on Sept. 15 during the third straight day of violent clashes at the third holiest site in Islam. Israeli forces were reported to have fired stun grenades, tear-gas canisters, and rubber-coated steel bullets at Palestinian worshipers inside the mosque. Officials from the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Endowment office in Jerusalem told Ma'an News Agency that Israeli forces entered the compound at 6:30 AM, deploying across the compound before advancing on the southern mosque. They began to close the mosque's doors with chains and steels, but during the ensuing clashes with Palestinian worshipers they entered the site, witnesses said.
Witnesses said that heavily-armed Israeli soldiers "tread on the carpets with their military boots until they reached the Saladin's Minbar [pulpit]." Fire broke out near Bab al-Janaez (Funeral Door), one of the mosque's southern doors. Witnesses said that the fire was caused by stun grenades, and that fire fighters were able to put it out. Israeli forces reportedly arrested a young man after assaulting him.
Meanwhile, Israeli forces closed all gates to the compound except Hatta, al-Majlis and the Chain Gate, and denied all Palestinians entry. An Israeli police spokesperson could not be reached for comment.
The clashes followed two days of violence at the mosque compound, with a number of Palestinians injured and detained by Israeli forces, as Jewish worshipers sought to celebrate the Jewish new year at the holy site. The latest flare-up came despite calls for restraint from both the United Nations and the United States, and a warning from Jordan, which has custodianship rights over Muslim holy places in Jerusalem under its 1994 peace treaty with Israel, that relations were on the line.
The PLO has also accused Israel of provoking the entire Muslim world in its actions at the mosque compound. "Israel is playing with fire," senior PLO official Hanan Ashrawi said Sept. 14, warning that Israeli authorities were forcibly securing control over the site "in preparation for the total annexation and transformation of Al-Haram Al-Sharif." She added: "Israel is not only provoking the Palestinians, but the entire Muslim world."
Palestinians have expressed fears that Israel is seeking to change rules governing the site, with far-right Jewish groups pushing for more access to the compound and even efforts by fringe organizations to erect a new temple. Non-Muslims are allowed to visit the compound, but Jews are not allowed to pray or display national symbols, under an agreement between Israel and the Islamic Endowment that controls the site.
The al-Aqsa Mosque compound, also known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary), is a 144,000-square-meter compound in the Old City of Jerusalem. It includes two major mosques, the iconic Dome of the Rock and a silver-domed mosque known as the southern mosque. Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad traveled from the sacred mosque in Mecca to al-Aqsa during the night journey known as Isra and Miraj.
From Ma'an News Agency, Sept. 15