Arab League to meet on Al-Aqsa clashes; Netanyahu: We’re committed to calming tension

Jordan, in partnership with Egypt and Palestinian Authority, calls emergency session to discuss overnight unrest as Passover begins

Police walk inside the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, early on April 5, 2023 after clashes erupted during Islam's holy month of Ramadan. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
Police walk inside the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, early on April 5, 2023 after clashes erupted during Islam's holy month of Ramadan. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

The Arab League was set to meet for an emergency session Wednesday after Israeli forces entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque overnight and clashed with Palestinians inside.

Jordan, in partnership with the Palestinian Authority and Egypt, had earlier called for the body to hold an emergency session.

A statement published by Jordan’s Foreign Ministry said Amman sought the meeting after Israeli forces “stormed” the flashpoint Al-Aqsa.

“The Israeli aggression is unacceptable and its goal is to change the historical and legal status of Jerusalem. We take all steps and measures to stop the dangerous Israeli escalation that threatens the entire region,” the statement said.

Police said they entered the mosque after masked youths barricaded themselves inside the mosque atop the Temple Mount with fireworks, clubs and rocks and refused to come out peacefully. Cops apparently believed the group intended to assault Jews visiting the mount on Passover Eve.

The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism and is revered as the location of both ancient Jewish temples. The compound is Islam’s third holiest site and is managed by Jordan, as part of a delicate arrangement with Israel.

Men clean the Al-Aqsa mosque atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City following clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces early on April 5, 2023 (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

In a statement on Wednesday afternoon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government was committed to “maintaining the status quo and calming tensions” on the Temple Mount.

Netanyahu claimed that Muslim worshipers inside the mosque overnight Tuesday confirmed the police account of events, publishing footage to his Twitter page in which an unidentified Palestinian man testified that masked youths barricaded the doors to the mosque shut, and refused to let anyone leave the building.

Arab League foreign ministers meet during an annual meeting in Cairo, Egypt, September 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

Police said they tried to convince rioters inside the mosque to leave, but the group failed to comply, leaving security forces no option but to enter the mosque, where they were attacked with rocks and fireworks.

“Israel is committed to preserving freedom of worship, free access for all religions, and the status quo on the Temple Mount, and will not allow violent extremists to change this,” Netanyahu wrote.

Police added that 350 suspects were detained and that “the rioters caused damage to the mosque and desecrated it.”

The Arab League’s Secretary General, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, described Israel’s actions as “irresponsible,” adding that the “behavior affects the religious feelings of millions of Muslims around the world, especially during Ramadan.”

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit speaks during an Arab League emergency meeting discussing the US-brokered proposal for a settlement of the Middle East conflict, Cairo, February 1, 2020. (Khaled Desouki/AFP)

The Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which this year once again coincides with the Jewish festival of Passover, is known to be a period of higher tension between Israeli forces and Palestinians. Tens of thousands of worshipers visit Al-Aqsa throughout the month, regularly leading to a spike in tensions with Israel and violence.

“We call on the international community, with an emphasis on the countries that are members of the UN Security Council, to act quickly to make Israel stop this dangerous escalation that could ignite the entire region,” Gheit said.

He also charged “extremists” in the Israeli government with trying to stoke tensions with the Palestinians. “Don’t transfer the internal crisis in Israel to the Palestinian people.”

Policemen detain a Palestinian man at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound following clashes that erupted during the Islamic holy fasting month of Ramadan in Jerusalem on April 5, 2023. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Palestinian Authority Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh condemned the Israeli police action inside Al-Aqsa, saying that “the level of brutality requires urgent Palestinian, Arab and international action.”

Saudi Arabia expressed its “categorical rejection” of actions that contradict “international principles and norms in respect of religious sanctities,” and “undermine peace efforts.”

Egypt, which has frequently mediated in the conflict, said it “holds Israel, the occupying power, responsible for this dangerous escalation which could undermine the truce efforts in which Egypt is engaged with its regional and international partners.”

Police clash with Palestinians inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, April 5, 2023. (Screenshot/Twitter; Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The US Office of Palestinian Affairs weighed in later Wednesday, saying that “violence has no place in a holy site and during a holy season.

[We’re] alarmed by the shocking scenes in Al Aqsa Mosque and rockets launched from Gaza toward Israel,” its statement said, appearing to criticize both Israeli and Palestinian-instigated violence. “We call for restraint and de-escalation to allow peaceful worship and to protect the sanctity of the holy sites.”

Police released video footage showing what appear to be fireworks explosions inside the mosque and figures throwing rocks. Another police video showed riot police with shields advancing through the mosque under a barrage of fireworks explosions. The footage then showed a barricaded door and boxes of fireworks on the floor, as well as police escorting at least five people outside with their hands cuffed behind their backs.

A Palestinian-filmed video showed security forces beating people inside the mosque as a woman’s voice could be heard shouting, “Oh God. Oh God.”

The Hamas terrorist group denounced the raid on the mosque as an “unprecedented crime” and called on Palestinians in the West Bank “to go en masse to the Al-Aqsa mosque to defend it.”

The clashes led to some 16 rockets being fired at Israel from Gaza early Wednesday. The Sderot Municipality said one of the rockets struck a factory in the industrial area, causing damage. No one was hurt.

In response Israel carried out airstrikes in the Strip, hitting several Hamas facilities.

Smoke rises above buildings in Gaza City after the IDF struck the Palestinian enclave following rocket fire towards Israeli towns, April 5, 2023. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

The fighting raised fears of a wider conflagration. Similar clashes two years ago erupted into a bloody 11-day war between Israel and Hamas.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said Wednesday morning he was calling for the security cabinet to be convened.

“The government of which I am a member should respond strongly to the rocket fire from Gaza. Hamas rockets necessitate a response beyond the bombing of dunes and uninhabited sites,” Ben Gvir said. “It’s time for heads to roll in Gaza.”

Last week, the IDF announced it would impose a closure on the West Bank, set to take effect at 5 p.m. Wednesday, with crossing points closed to Palestinians on the first and last days of the Passover holiday. Gaza border crossings will also close.

Such closures are standard practice during festivals and holidays. The military says they are a preventative measure against attacks in periods of increased tension.

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