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Israelis take to Al-Aqsa on 2nd day of Jewish New Year

Oct. 3, 2016 6:22 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 4, 2016 11:14 A.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma’an) -- Some 45 right-wing Israelis escorted by Israeli forces toured the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Monday on the occasion of the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, according to the Waqf (Islamic Endowment) which controls the holy site.

Witnesses told Ma’an that the group entered the compound through the Moroccan Gate and later exited through the Chain Gate after performing religious rituals under armed guard, in violation of long-standing agreements regarding non-Muslim prayer at the compound.

The incident came amid an increased presence by Israeli police in occupied East Jerusalem for the holiday. Israeli forces raided several homes in the Old City before dawn on Sunday, detaining at least 15 Palestinians for several hours before releasing them and banning most of them from the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Meanwhile, right-wing Jewish organizations have called on Israelis to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound over the three-day holiday, after they received assurances from the Israeli army that entry would be secured for every Jewish person wishing to visit the holy site.

In a statement on Sunday, Israeli police spokesperson for Arabic media Luba al-Samri said that large numbers of Israeli police officers, border guards, and volunteers were deployed across Jerusalem, particularly the Old City and its outskirts, for the holiday.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which sits just above the Western Wall plaza, houses both the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The third holiest site in Islam, it is also venerated as Judaism's most holy place, as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

Following Israel's illegal annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel has maintained a compromise with the Islamic trust that controls the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound to not allow non-Muslim prayer in the area.

Israeli forces regularly escort Jewish visitors to the site, however, leading to tension with Palestinian worshipers and residents of the area.

Tensions around the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound were a main contributor to the increasing unrest that began last October, after right-wing Israelis made frequent visits to the site during a succession of Jewish holidays this time last year.

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