RAMALLAH, Palestine (AA): The Palestinian Foreign Ministry on Sunday warned that Israeli settler incursions into the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem risk undermining efforts to maintain a cease-fire between Palestinians and Israel and revive the peace process.
Scores of Israeli settlers forced their way into the flashpoint compound under police protection on Sunday after a hiatus of three weeks, according to the Jordan-run Islamic Waqf Department, which oversees holy sites in Jerusalem.
Eyewitnesses told Anadolu Agency that Israeli police barred Palestinian young people from entering the site since dawn and imposed restrictions on the entry of worshippers into the complex.
The continued settler incursion “amount to a disregard of efforts aimed at stabilizing the calm and reviving the peace process,” a ministry statement said.
The ministry condemned “the Israeli restrictions and siege on the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem and the repression of its residents,” warning that the Israeli violations jeopardize the cease-fire and revival of the peace process.
Wafa news agency reported Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh saying, “Israeli support to extremist settlers amount to a blatant disregard of Arab and international efforts to stop the [Israeli] aggression.”
He warned that “Israeli restrictions and siege on the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem and the continued raids of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound could drag the situation back into escalation and tensions.”
Abu Rudeineh held Israel responsible for sabotaging US and Egyptian efforts “to stabilize the cease-fire and prepare for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip”.
Earlier on Friday, Israeli soldiers attacked worshippers in the courtyards of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, wounding at least twenty Palestinians, mainly with the rubber-coated steel bullets, in addition to abducting several Palestinians.
The soldiers invaded Al-Aqsa just after Friday prayers, before storming the al-Qibli mosque in the holy compound, forcing the worshipers out, and occupying its rooftop.
Medical sources said the soldiers shot twenty Palestinians with the rubber-coated steel bullets and caused many to suffer the effects of tear gas inhalation, in addition to abducting several Palestinians.
The soldiers also fired gas bombs and concussion grenades at Palestinian worshipers near the Dome of the Rock in the Al-Aqsa compound, and near Bab al-Asbat and Bab al-Silsila gates, while removing the Palestinians from the holy site.
Furthermore, the soldiers closed the gates of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and assaulted several young Palestinian men before abducting them, in addition to preventing medics from entering the holy compound to provide treatment for the wounded.
Tension escalated across the Palestinian territories since last month over an Israeli court verdict to evict Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in favor of settlement groups. The situation worsened after Israeli forces raided the Al-Aqsa Mosque and assaulted worshippers inside.
The tension spread to the Gaza Strip, with Israel launching airstrikes that killed at least 248 Palestinians, including 66 children and 39 women, and injured more than 1,900 others. Health authorities in the West Bank also confirmed 31 killed in the occupied region, totaling 279 across all Palestinian territories.
Twelve Israelis were also killed in Palestinian rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. The fighting, the fiercest in years, came to a halt on Friday under an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire.
Al-Aqsa Mosque is the world’s third-holiest site for Muslims. Jews call the area the “Temple Mount,” claiming it was the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times.
Since 2003, Israel has allowed settlers into the compound almost on a daily basis.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem, where Al-Aqsa is located, during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. It annexed the entire city in 1980 in a move never recognized by the international community.