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Israeli police attack Aqsa protesters ahead of annexation debate

Feb. 25, 2014 10:33 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 26, 2014 7:56 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli troops and police raided the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex early Tuesday and forcefully dispersed Palestinian worshipers and protesters ahead of a Knesset debate on a plan to annex the mosque.

Witnesses told Ma'an that Israeli forces fired rubber-coated steel bullets and stun grenades at Muslim worshipers while protesters hurled stones.

Several worshipers were hurt as a result of the pepper spray and others were hit directly by rubber-coated bullets, witnesses said.

They added that Israeli intelligence agents stormed the Al-Aqsa complex through the Moroccan Gate and the Chain Gate and blockaded the prayer hall, closing its gates with chains.

Meanwhile, Jerusalemite students who study inside the complex were denied entry to Al-Aqsa, and three youths trying to access the complex though the Chain Gate were arrested, witnesses said.

Director of the Al-Aqsa Mosque Azzam al-Khatib said that Israeli forces also closed the Moroccan Gate and denied Jewish extremists entry to the complex.

He added that Israeli forces later pulled out and were deployed at the main gates.

Around 50 Palestinians had spent the night inside the complex in protest of an Israeli Knesset debate, scheduled for Tuesday, over a plan to place the holy site under full Israeli jurisdiction.

Their protest was also in reaction to reports that Israeli rightist organizations had announced plans to raise Israeli flags inside the Al-Aqsa complex.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP that Israeli police used "means of dispersion" against stone-throwing protesters at the mosque.

Rosenfeld said there was "high tension" ahead of the Knesset debate, and that stones thrown by the Palestinians injured two policemen while three protesters were arrested.

Palestinian medics told AFP 15 protesters were injured by rubber-coated steel bullets.

Right-wing Israeli MK Moshe Feiglin initiated the Al-Aqsa annexation debate, which was originally scheduled for last Tuesday. On Wednesday, Feiglin visited the mosque escorted by Israeli police and a cameraman.

Due to the sensitive nature of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Israel maintains a compromise with the Islamic trust that controls the compound -- overseen by Jordan -- to restrict the area for Muslim prayers.

Israeli forces, however, regularly escort Jewish visitors to the site, often leading to tension with Palestinians.

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

According to mainstream Jewish religious leaders, Jews are forbidden from entering for fear they would profane the "Holy of Holies," or the inner sanctum of the Second Temple.

Al-Aqsa is located in East Jerusalem, a part of the internationally recognized Palestinian territories that have been occupied by the Israeli military since 1967.

AFP contributed to this report
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