ADDS CONDEMNATION BY PALESTINE PRESIDENCY
JERUSALEM (AA) – 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 Tuesday.
“Dozens of Israeli soldiers stormed the Al-Aqsa compound and assaulted several 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.
According to al-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 police.
Baton-wielding police, he said, had attacked dozens of Muslim worshippers near the Al-Aqsa compound’s Dome of the Rock Mosque.
“At least five Palestinians were arrested before being taken into custody for further investigation,” al-Dibs said.
The Israeli authorities, for their part, have yet to comment on the reports.
The Palestinian Presidency, meanwhile, has condemned the reported escalation at the flashpoint religious site.
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 also called on the international community to intervene, accusing Israeli police and settlers of “consistently violating the sanctity of the mosque and provoking the sentiments of Muslims”.
Tension has mounted in Jerusalem since last month, when Israeli police 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 the Al-Aqsa, which for Muslims represents the world’s third holiest site.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem, in which the Al-Aqsa is located, during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. It annexed the entire city in 1980 in a move never recognized by the international community.