Hundreds of Israelis storm Al-Aqsa complex amid flag march

Nearly 2,000 Israeli settlers stormed their way into occupied East Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site, Al-Aqsa Mosque complex, early Sunday amid tensions over a planned flag march by settlers through the occupied city, according to eyewitnesses.

“Around 1,044 Israeli settlers stormed the Al-Aqsa compound since the morning,” the Jordan-run Islamic Waqf Department, which oversees the holy sites in Jerusalem, said in a statement.

Some 3,000 Israeli police were deployed throughout the city ahead of the march, in which flag-waving Israeli nationalists planned to walk through the heart of the Old City’s main Palestinian thoroughfare.

Witnesses said Israeli police stormed the mosque courtyard and allowed settlers into the site through the compound’s Al-Mugharbah Gate.

Far-right lawmaker Itamar BenGvir, a notorious Israeli opposition figure, and a number of his supporters were reportedly among those who stormed the complex on Sunday. Jordan condemned Ben-Gvir’s visit to the site and warned that the “provocative and escalating march” could make things deteriorate further. Jordan controlled East Jerusalem until Israel captured it in 1967 and it remains the custodian over Muslim holy sites.

According to witnesses, Israeli police chased Palestinian worshipers inside the complex. A number of worshipers were reportedly detained by Israeli forces.

For its part, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry accused Israeli authorities of organizing the settler incursions into the Al-Aqsa complex.

In a statement, the ministry held Israel “fully responsible for these incursions and its repercussions on the whole region,” going on to call on the US administration and the international community to shoulder their responsibility toward Jerusalem and its holy sites.

Without explanation, Israeli police took the rare step of barring Palestinian journalists, including an Associated Press photographer, from entering the compound.

The settler intrusion into the Al-Aqsa complex comes as Israeli settlers plan to stage a controversial flag march to mark what they call the day of unifying Jerusalem, in reference to Israel’s occupation of the city in 1967.

Al-Aqsa is the third-holiest site in Islam and serves as a powerful symbol for the Palestinians. The compound also is the holiest site for Jews, who call it the Temple Mount and revere it as the home of the biblical Temples. The competing claims to the site lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have triggered numerous rounds of violence.

Since 2003, Israel has allowed settlers into the compound almost daily.

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.

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