Dozens Of Palestinians Wounded In Clashes With Israeli Troops

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DOZENS of Palestinian worshipers were wounded and dozens were detained after clashes broke in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Sunday morning with Israeli forces who had stormed the courtyards firing stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets.

The raid comes amid frequent clashes in recent days after right-wing Jewish groups urged Jews to flock to the compound, which they believe is the site of a former Jewish temple, and conduct Passover rituals inside.

Director of Al-Aqsa Mosque Omar Kiswani said that more than 400 police officers stormed the courtyard of the Al-Aqsa Mosque through the Moroccan Gate and the Chain Gate escorting extremist Jews other Jewish visitors into the compound.

Kiswani said said that Israeli forces ‘besieged’ worshipers in the southern mosque ‘attacking them with clubs and pepper spray,’ after clashes broke out with Palestinian worshipers in the compound.

Dozens of Palestinians sustained injuries during the assault, while several others suffered from excessive tear gas inhalation. Twenty-five young men were reportedly detained by Israeli forces.

Kiswani said that Likud member of Knesset Moshe Feiglin had also entered the compound during the raid, accompanied by special security units. Feiglin has visited the site frequently in recent months, and he has vocally supported the extension of Israeli sovereignty over the compound.

Earlier on Sunday morning, clashes erupted outside the Lions’ Gate (Bab al-Asbat) and Gate of Remission (Bab al-Hutta) of the Al-Aqsa compound when Israeli police denied hundreds of worshippers access to the compound.

Witnesses said that Israeli officers had denied all Palestinian residents of Jerusalem under the age of 60 access to the compound, including students who attend schools inside. Men and women were also attacked with clubs and pepper spray, witnesses said.

Israeli forces detained a young man after he was beaten brutally. An Israeli police spokesman said in a statement that police had detained 16 Palestinian ‘rioters’, adding that they were all detained ‘as they threw stones/blocks at officers at the scene this morning.’

He also said that two police officers were lightly injured in the clashes, which broke out after the Palestinians threw stones as ‘tourists visited’.

About 100 Muslim worshipers have decided to stay inside the compound day and night throughout Passover after the right-wing Jewish organizations called for Jewish worshipers to enter the area en masse for religious festivities.

Because of the sensitive nature of the Al-Aqsa compound, Israel maintains a compromise with the Islamic trust that controls it to not allow non-Muslim prayers in the area. Israeli forces regularly escort Jewish visitors to the site, leading to tension with Palestinian worshipers.

The compound, which sits just above the Western Wall plaza, houses both the Dome of the Rock and 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.

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.

Meanwhile, in the Bethlehem district, Israeli forces on Sunday set up a military base on the roof of a Palestinian house. In the village of Tuqu southeast of Bethlehem, Israeli soldiers climbed to the rooftop of a house belonging to Nayef Hussein Moussa.

The soldiers stationed machine guns on the roof and installed cameras to monitor the movement of Palestinians on a road that connects Jerusalem to illegal Israeli settlements in Hebron. Tuqu’s municipality condemned the Israeli move, calling on the Palestinian military liaison office to intervene.

Elsewhere on Sunday, Israeli settlers chopped down more than 100 olive trees in the central West Bank village of Ras Karkar, locals said. Witnesses said that more than 20 settlers from a nearby illegal Israeli outpost chopped down the five-year-old trees in a private Palestinian field.

Locals say the attacks are an almost everyday occurrence.

• A delegation from the PLO will visit the Gaza Strip within the next two days for meetings to discuss reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, a member of the delegation said on Sunday. Bassam al-Salhi said that the visit to Gaza is part of an effort to implement reconciliation agreements reached with Hamas in 2012.

Achieving reconciliation with Hamas will lead to an improvement in Gaza-Egypt relations, al-Salhi said. The division between Fatah and Hamas began in 2006, when Hamas won Palestinian legislative elections.

In the following year, clashes erupted between Fatah and Hamas, leaving Hamas in control of the Strip and Fatah in control of parts of the occupied West Bank. The groups have made failed attempts at national reconciliation for years, most recently in 2012, when they signed two agreements – one in Cairo and a subsequent one in Doha – which have as of yet been entirely unimplemented.

• The 26th Miles of Smiles Convoy arrived in Gaza on Sunday, with solidarity activists from 21 nations worldwide. Deputy Foreign Minister, Ghazi Hamad, welcomed the convoy’s activists ‘here in Gaza, where we share patience and resilience’.

Hamad expressed hope that the convoy encourages other convoys. He appreciated the delegation’s determination to come to the besieged Gaza Strip, and thanked Egypt for facilitating the convoy’s arrival, calling for a permanent opening of the Rafah Crossing.

Egypt’s Rafah border crossing with the Gaza Strip has only been open for 12 days so far, this year, according to Gaza’s Interior Ministry. In a statement, ministry spokesman Eyad al-Bazm said Egyptian authorities were keeping the crossing shut ‘without stating the reasons’.

Due to an eight-year-long Israeli embargo on the Gaza Strip, the Rafah border crossing – which links the strip to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula – represents Gaza’s only window to the outside world.

Al-Bazm also called on international legal and humanitarian agencies to pressure Egypt to reopen the crossing with a view to ‘ending the suffering of thousands of Palestinians in the enclave’.

Egyptian authorities have tightened their grip on the border with the Hamas-run the Gaza Strip since last July, when the army ousted elected president Mohamed Morsi and cracked down on his Hamas-linked Muslim Brotherhood group.

Hamas has governed the Gaza Strip since 2007. Just last Monday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned of a collapse of humanitarian services in the Gaza Strip due to eight years of Israeli blockade.

Head of the ICRC mission in Gaza Christian Cardon said the tightening restrictions imposed on the movement of goods and individuals from and into the Gaza Strip ‘are ringing a bell’.

He warned that the Israeli measures and the ongoing Egyptian closure of the Rafah border crossing point with Gaza ‘are worrying and will influence the humanitarian situation in the territory’.

The Gaza Strip, an impoverished and densely populated coastal enclave ruled by Hamas, has been under a tight Israeli blockade after Hamas won the election in 2006. Free movement of goods, products and individuals is restricted.

Egypt has kept the Rafah border crossing closed after the deposition of the elected president Mohamed Mursi, in early July of last year, and opened it temporarily for humanitarian cases.

Egypt has also destroyed thousands of tunnels dug by Palestinians to escape the Israeli blockade, which has badly affected people’s daily life in Gaza.

‘The lack of all materials, mainly construction materials and fuels, in addition to the lack of goods and high prices, I think thus will certainly affect the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip,’ Cardon said.

A delegation member said: ‘The Palestinian people want his freedom and land; we support his claims and will show his support in moral and material means. The convoy stands for your reach to the free world; you are not alone facing this unjust siege,’ he added.