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Dozens of Palestinians injured as Israeli forces raid Al-Aqsa an hour after reopening

July 27, 2017 6:16 P.M. (Updated: July 28, 2017 12:20 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Just one hour after thousands of Palestinian worshipers entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem for the first time in nearly two weeks, clashes erupted inside the holy site, as Israeli forces fired tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets at worshipers.

The Palestinian Red Crescent released a statement saying that its crews had provided at least 94 worshipers with medical care. According to the group, some worshipers were treated for rubber-coated steel bullet injuries and tear gas inhalation, while others were physically assaulted and pepper sprayed by Israeli forces.

As clashes took place inside the compound, Israeli forces closed the Remission Gate (Bab al-Hutta) entrance to the compound, which was the last gate to be opened on Thursday afternoon before thousands of worshipers poured in for afternoon Asr prayers.

Israeli soldiers also took down the Palestinian flags that worshipers had raised atop Al-Aqsa Mosque in celebration when they entered the compound.

By 7 p.m., Israeli forces were reportedly only allowing women and the elderly into the compound, according to witnesses.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said in a statement that “after thousands of people entered the Temple Mount this afternoon,” referring to the Israeli term for the Al-Aqsa compound, “stones were thrown at police units.”

Rosenfeld said that “a number of stones thrown at the Western Wall,” and that “(Israeli) police units cleared the area to prevent injuries,” adding that “a number of (Palestinian) flags were taken down.”

Israeli police units remained in the area, according to Rosenfeld, who said the situation was “under control” and that Israeli forces were “ready to respond to any incidents or riots.”

The clashes came just hours after Israeli forces reopened all the gates to the compound on Thursday afternoon, in what was celebrated as a victory by Palestinian Jerusalemites who had been participating in a 13-day long civil disobedience campaign against Israeli-imposed security measures at the holy site.

Following a deadly shooting at Al-Aqsa on July 14, Israeli authorities installed metal detectors, turnstiles, and cameras at the entrances to the compound, while most of the entrances to the compound remained closed.

The measures sparked widespread protests in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, as Palestinians said the Israeli move was the latest example of Israeli authorities using Israeli-Palestinian violence as a means of furthering control over important sites in the occupied Palestinian territory and normalizing repressive measures against Palestinians.

Following worshipers' elation on Wednesday night when Israeli forces dismantled all the security measures at the compound’s entrances, tensions had re-emerged on Thursday afternoon after Israeli forces reportedly prevented Al-Aqsa security guards from reopening one of the gates to the compound, as Palestinians said they would continue boycotting the compound until all entrances to Al-Aqsa were opened.

However, the Remission Gate was finally opened in time for Asr prayers, as thousands crowded at the entrances of the compound, only to be met with violent suppression by Israeli forces just one hour later.

Meanwhile, Israeli news outlet Arutz Sheva reported on Thursday that Israeli police chief in Jerusalem Yoram Halevy had threatened Palestinian worshipers should they keep up with mass demonstrations.

"If they try to disrupt the order tomorrow, there will be casualties,” Halevy said. “Do not try us. We know how to react vigorously."

The decision to take down the metal detectors, turnstiles, and cameras came after Palestinian factions had called for prayers and protests to take place across the occupied territory on Friday, which would have likely led to further Israeli repression and clashes.

Prior to the compound’s reopening, Hebrew media reported that Israeli forces were being deployed across the West Bank to “reinforce their presence at seam zones in preparation to face any Palestinian protests that might be launched after prayer on Friday.”

Hebrew media reported that Israeli forces had installed different security measures, putting cement blocks and dirt mounds near main roads and at seam zones where clashes usually erupt.

An Israeli army spokesperson confirmed to Ma'an that "reinforcements" were being put in place, without giving further details.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Minister of Religious Affairs Sheikh Yousif Adeis called upon all Palestinians who are able to head to Al-Aqsa Mosque for Friday prayers, despite all Israeli procedures.

Adeis said in statement that the coming days should be used to “prove what the Jerusalemites have accomplished with their determination and popular resistance against unfair Israeli procedures.”

“The accomplishment of the Palestinians, particularly the Jerusalemites, is proof that the Palestinian people have the power to take their rights and sovereignty over Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque,” Adeis said.

He demanded all Palestinians to continue to support Jerusalemites, and expressed his appreciation for and pride with the Palestinian people “for their determination and resistance against Israeli aggressions.”

In the span of ten days, four Palestinian demonstrators were killed by Israelis and more than 1,000 others were injured, as Israeli NGO B’Tselem accused Israel of displaying “sweeping disregard” for Palestinian lives in East Jerusalem.

Israeli forces have raided Palestinian hospitals, closed off parts of East Jerusalem’s Old City, carried out massive detention campaigns, and violently clashed with Palestinians across East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, leaving Palestinian journalists, medics, and children injured in the process.
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