Israeli forces storm Al-Aqsa Mosque with tear gas, stun grenades

Israeli police close Al-Aqsa’s gates after dozens of Palestinians were injured following Friday prayer.

Israeli forces have stormed occupied East Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, firing tear gas and stun grenades at Muslim worshipers gathered for Friday prayers.

Israeli police have since sealed the gates to the site, with some worshipers stuck inside for more than two and a half hours, said Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons, reporting from Mount of Olives, in occupied East Jerusalem.

At least 40 Palestinian were injured inside the compound and six Palestinians were arrested, Palestinian news agency Wafa reported, citing local sources.

“At least 60 soldiers entered the mosque compound, where they used tear gas and stun grenades to disperse worshipers after Friday prayers,” Firas al-Dibs, a spokesman for al-Waqf, Jerusalem’s Jordan-run Religious Endowments Authority, said in a statement.

Two of their guards were injured – one was hit by a stun grenade and the other was assaulted, al-Waqf said in a statement.

According to al-Dibs, the Israeli authorities sealed the Al-Aqsa Mosque with iron chains and prevented Palestinian worshippers from entering it.

The closure consequently led to confrontations with worshipers, Wafa reported.

It is not yet clear as to what was the cause for the Israeli forces’ to storm the compound.

“[Israeli security forces] say that rocks and fireworks were thrown at security forces who were actually allowed to position themselves inside the Al-Aqsa compound – that’s a routine thing – but then large enforcements came rushing in and there was this situation where people were evacuated by the Waqf from the site,” Simmons said.

The unrest coincides with the first anniversary of the Al-Aqsa protests in July 2017 when tens of thousands of Palestinians prayed outside the compound for nearly two weeks, protesting against the new metal detectors installed by Israeli authorities.

The Al-Aqsa compound is one of the most fractious issues in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Al-Aqsa is the name of the silver-domed mosque inside a 35-acre compound referred to as al-Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, by Muslims, and as the Temple Mount by Jews.

For Muslims, the Noble Sanctuary hosts Islam’s third-holiest site, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Dome of the Rock, a seventh-century structure believed to be where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.

Jews believe the compound is where the Biblical Jewish temples once stood, but Jewish law and the Israeli Rabbinate forbid Jews from entering the compound and praying there, as it is considered too holy to tread upon.

The compound’s Western Wall, known as the Wailing Wall to Jews, is believed to be the last remnant of the Second Temple, while Muslims refer to it as al-Buraq Wall and believe it is where the Prophet tied al-Buraq, the animal upon which he ascended to the sky and spoke to God.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem during the 1967 Middle East War. It later annexed the city in 1980, claiming it as the capital of the self-proclaimed Jewish state in a move never recognized by the international community.

In late 2000, a visit to the Al-Aqsa by controversial Israeli politician Ariel Sharon sparked a years-long popular uprising against the Israeli occupation in which thousands of Palestinians lost their lives.