Dozens of far-right Jewish nationalists have entered Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, ahead of a provocative flag march that could re-ignite confrontations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, the leader of a small ultranationalist opposition party in the Knesset, entered the compound early on Sunday, along with dozens of supporters.
Al Jazeera’s correspondent Najwan Simri said that Israeli forces have occupied the rooftop of the al-Qibli prayer hall in the compound on Sunday morning and besieged the worshippers inside it to enable the passage of settlers to go unhindered.
She added that the Israelis have prevented Palestinian journalists and photographers from entering Al-Aqsa Mosque and threatened them with arrest.
Israeli forces have fired rubber bullets at Palestinians in the compound.
Some Jews entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound attempted to pray, incensing Palestinians.
Jewish worship is not permitted in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound by Israeli law, and it is also forbidden by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. However, some far-right Israelis believe that they should be allowed to pray in an effort to upend the delicate status quo.
Palestinians fear that their sovereignty over the compound is being eroded amid calls by far-right Israelis for the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock to be replaced with a Jewish temple.
من أمام المصلى القبلي هذه اللحظات.. الاحتلال يواصل حصاره للمصلين لتأمين اقتحام المستوطنين pic.twitter.com/bC0hse1YQB
— AlQastal القسطل (@AlQastalps) May 29, 2022
Translation: In front of the al-Qibli mosque … the occupation forces continue their siege of worshippers to secure the settlers’ raid.
An Israeli police spokesperson said a small group of people had barricaded themselves inside the mosque and were throwing large rocks towards the police officers stationed outside. There were no reports of injuries.
Al Jazeera has not been able to verify that information.
Some 3,000 Israeli police have been deployed throughout the city ahead of the march.
Each year, thousands of Israeli far-right groups participate in the parade, waving Israeli flags and singing songs as they pass through the narrow streets of the Old City’s Muslim quarter.
The march is meant to celebrate Israel’s capture of occupied East Jerusalem in the 1967 war. Israel subsequently annexed the area in a move that is not internationally recognised.
Palestinians, who have been forced to shutter their businesses and stay indoors, view the march as a blatant provocation as Jewish settlers flaunt their sovereignty over the occupied territory.
‘Death to Arabs’
It is also considered by Palestinians as a violation of one of the few places in the city, increasingly hemmed in by Jewish development and settlement, which retains a strong Arab flavour.
Previous marches have included Israeli chants of “Death to Arabs” and the attacking of Palestinian homes and shops in the Old City.
Other chants used by the settlers directed at Palestinians include “may your village burn” and “a second Nakba is coming” – referring to the 1948 ethnic cleansing of at least 750,000 Palestinians by Zionist paramilitaries.
Sunday’s march comes at a time of heightened tensions. Israeli police have repeatedly stormed the compound, often firing rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades at Palestinian demonstrators, injuring hundreds.
At the same time, some 19 people have been killed by Palestinian attackers in Israel and the West Bank in recent weeks, while more than 35 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank, including a 15-year-old boy who was killed on Friday in Bethlehem.
Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was also killed by Israeli forces on May 11 in Jenin, in the northern occupied West Bank, while covering an Israeli military raid.
But despite calls for a rethink of the march from some of his own coalition allies, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has refused to countenance any changes.
“The flag parade will be held as usual according to the planned route, as it has been for decades,” his office said on Friday, adding that it would review the situation regularly through the coming hours.
Hamas issued a statement on Saturday calling for Palestinians in Gaza, the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, along with Palestinian citizens of Israel “to rise up on Sunday to defend Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa mosque”.
Last May’s flag march provoked rocket fire from Gaza, which Israel responded to by bombing the besieged territory, leading to an 11-day war in which more than 260 Palestinians, and 13 Israelis, were killed.