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Hundreds of Israelis enter Al-Aqsa compound for Jewish holiday

Aug. 1, 2017 12:01 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 2, 2017 1:28 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- Hundreds of far-right religious Israelis entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem on Tuesday morning on the occasion of the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’av.

Tisha B’Av notably commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temple, which Jews believe were located where the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the third holiest site in Islam, now stands.

Islamic Endowment (Waqf) spokesman Firas al-Dibs told Ma'an that 870 Israeli Jews had entered the compound in large groups under heavy military protection between 7 and 11 a.m., adding that several Israelis had performed Jewish religious rites in the compound.

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.

Israeli police spokeswoman Luba al-Samri said in a statement that hundreds of Jewish worshipers had congregated at the Western Wall -- located just below the Al-Aqsa compound -- overnight for religious rituals amidst heavy police presence.

Al-Samri reported that nine Jewish visitors were evacuated from the compound for violating regulations, adding that five Jews were arrested for various charges, including assaulting Israeli police officers and impeding their work by not complying with police orders. Al-Samri had noted earlier in the day that three Israeli Jews and a Palestinian Muslim were also detained after a heated argument between them turned into a physical fight outside of Al-Aqsa's Chain Gate.

Meanwhile, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said two 20-year-old Palestinians were detained in Jerusalem for throwing Molotov cocktails at police officers.

Al-Samri added that police units were deployed across the Old City, adding that the streets of the Old City would be closed off for all private vehicles, except for residents of the area, starting at 5 p.m. in preparation for the arrival of worshipers at the Western Wall after a day of fasting.

Palestinian activists in Jerusalem called on Jerusalemites to protest Tuesday afternoon’s "provocative" march official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.

The Islamic Endowment, or Waqf -- in charge of running Al-Aqsa Mosque compound -- said on Tuesday afternoon that the number of Jews visiting the holy compound "broke a five-year record" with 1,046 Jewish visitors recorded to have entered the holy site. The largest number of Jewish visitors in one day was 900, which was a few months ago on Jerusalem Day, according to the Waqf.

Despite the agreement with Jordan -- which is the custodian of Al-Aqsa -- Israeli authorities regularly allow Jewish visitors to enter the site, often under armed guard. 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.

According to extremist Israeli organization Yeraeh, which pushes for the destruction of Al-Aqsa in order to build a Third Temple in its place, at least 17,000 Jews have visited the compound since October, marking a 15 percent increase over the previous year, The Jerusalem Post reported on Tuesday.

The Jewish holiday comes in the wake of a 13-day long civil disobedience campaign in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank to denounce security measures installed at the Al-Aqsa compound following a deadly shooting attack on July 14.

The measures sparked widespread protests, 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.

Six Palestinians were killed by Israelis when demonstrations were violently repressed, before Israeli forces backtracked and removed the surveillance cameras and metal detectors put up at the entrance of the compound.
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