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Hundreds of Israelis enter Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on last day of Sukkot

Oct. 23, 2016 6:56 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 23, 2016 10:57 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma’an) -- Hundreds of Israeli Jews escorted by Israeli forces took to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Sunday on the seventh and final day of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

The Islamic Endowment (Waqf), which is in charge of the site, said that 346 Israelis toured the compound, with 242 entering the compound between 7.30 and 11 a.m., while another 104 entered the compound through the Moroccan Gate at 1.30 p.m., only to leave one hour later through the Chain Gate.

Eyewitnesses said that many of the Israelis attempted to perform religious rituals in the compound -- in contravention of long-standing agreements regarding non-Muslim prayer at the site -- while others tried to "provoke" Palestinians at Al-Aqsa.

Israeli police forces were deployed at all gates of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, seizing Muslim worshipers' identity cards before letting them into the compound.

Severe restrictions on movement for Palestinians are typically implemented by Israeli authorities during Jewish holidays for alleged security purposes, while tensions around Al-Aqsa Mosque were a main contributor to increasing unrest that began last October, after right-wing Israelis made frequent visits to the site during the Jewish high holiday season this time last year.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque, 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.

While Jewish visitation is permitted to the compound, non-Muslim worship is prohibited according to an agreement signed between Israel and the Jordanian government after Israel’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.

Despite this agreement, the Israeli authorities regularly allow Jewish visitors to enter the site -- often under the protection of armed guards. Such visits are typically made by right-wingers attempting to unsettle the status quo at the site, and coincide with restrictions on Palestinian access, including bans on entrance and detentions.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted a resolution on Tuesday sharply criticizing Israel, focusing on Israeli policies around Al-Aqsa that UNESCO and rights groups have claimed increase tensions between Palestinian worshipers and Jewish visitors, while sparking fears in Palestinians that Israel could further deny their right to access Al-Aqsa.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed that the UN agency in effect “denied the over 3,000 year old connection between the Jewish people and its holiest site in Jerusalem,” because the text in the resolution referred to the site only by its Islamic names Al-Aqsa and Haram al-Sharif, and did not mention the name Temple Mount.

However, as a Palestinian representative to UNESCO told reporters in Paris, the UNESCO vote was "about occupation, not about a name," asserting that the Geneva Conventions required the site be referred to by the name that predated Israel's illegal occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.

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