Tensions build around Jerusalem shrine after Syria rockets

AP , Ahram Online , Monday 10 Apr 2023

Israeli warplanes and artillery struck targets in Syria as tensions reached a peak Sunday at a volatile Jerusalem shrine with simultaneous religious rituals.

Al-Aqsa mosque
Jewish visitors walk protected by Israeli security forces at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, also known as the Temple Mount complex to Jews, in Jerusalem on April 9, 2023, during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, also coinciding with the Jewish Passover holiday. AFP


Thousands of Jewish worshippers gathered at the city's Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews can pray, for a mass priestly benediction prayer service for the Passover holiday. At the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a walled esplanade above the Western Wall, hundreds of Palestinians performed prayers as part of observances during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Hundreds of Jews stormed the Al-Aqsa compound under heavy police guard Sunday, to whistles and religious chants from Palestinians protesting their presence. By sundown, the observances had passed without serious incident.

Such tours by religious and nationalist Jews have increased in size and frequency over the years, and are viewed with suspicion by many Palestinians who fear that Israel plans one day to take over the site or partition it.

However, Israel is now governed by the most right-wing government in its history, with ultra-nationalists who seek changes in the arrangements in senior positions.

Senior right-wing politicians, along with occupied West Bank settler leaders, announced plans for a march through the northern West Bank on Monday, setting the stage for further tensions.

The current round of violence erupted earlier in the week after Israeli police raided the mosque, firing tear gas and stun grenades to disperse hundreds of Palestinians who were participating in "Itikaf," a religious practice of seclusion inside mosques that is commonly observed during Ramadan.

Police removed them by force, detaining hundreds and leaving dozens injured.

The Al-Aqsa compound in occupied Jerusalem has a decades-old status quo recognized by the international community. Under this arrangement, only Muslim worship is allowed at the site, while non-Muslims can visit during specific times but are prohibited from praying there.

The Israeli violence at the shrine triggered a retaliatory response from Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon, who began firing rockets, starting Wednesday, and Israeli airstrikes targeted both areas.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah’s media office announced that the militant group’s chief, Hassan Nasrallah, received a delegation headed by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Sunday. The two discussed “the most important developments in occupied Palestine, the course of events at al-Aqsa Mosque, and the escalating resistance in the West Bank and Gaza, in addition to general political developments in the region, the readiness of the resistance axis and the cooperation of its parties,” the statement said.

Haniyeh, who arrived in Lebanon last week shortly before rockets were launched at Israel from south Lebanon, had been scheduled to make a public appearance in Beirut on Friday. But it was canceled for security reasons following the exchange of strikes between Lebanon and Israel. No group has officially claimed responsibility for the rocket attacks, but Israel has accused Hamas of being behind them.

Late on Saturday and early Sunday, militants in Syria fired rockets in two salvos toward Israel and the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights. A Damascus-based Palestinian group loyal to the Syrian government claimed responsibility for the first round of rockets, saying it was retaliating for the Al-Aqsa raids.

In the first salvo, one rocket landed in a field in the Golan Heights. Fragments of another destroyed missile fell into Jordanian territory near the Syrian border, Jordan’s military reported. In the second round, two of the rockets crossed the border into Israel, with one being intercepted and the second landing in an open area, the Israeli military said.

Israel responded with artillery fire into the area in Syria from where the rockets were fired. Later, the military said Israeli fighter jets attacked Syrian army sites, including a compound of Syria’s 4th Division and radar and artillery posts.

In addition to the cross-border fighting, three people were killed over the weekend in Palestinian attacks in Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Over 90 Palestinians and have been killed by Israeli fire so far this year, at least half of them affiliated with militant groups, according to a tally by The Associated Press. Palestinian attacks on Israelis have killed 19 people in that time. 

Two Palestinians were injured Monday morning during an Israeli army raid of al-Ein refugee camp in the northern West Bank city of Nablus, according to medical sources reported by the Palestinian news agency WAFA.

Ahmad Jibril, an official with the Red Crescent, reported that the two individuals were hit by bullet shrapnel in the arm and head, fired by the soldiers during the raid. In addition, 10 others were treated for suffocation due to tear gas fired by the soldiers at homes in the camp.

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