Hundreds of Israeli settlers broke into the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in annexed East Jerusalem Tuesday – guarded by Israeli military police and escorted by an Israeli MP and a minister – to mark the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, local media reported.
Around 300 settlers entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Islam’s third holiest site, a week after around 400 settlers entered the site to mark the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah.
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel and Yehuda Glick, an MP from the right-wing Likud party, were among those who entered the compound on Tuesday as well as last week.
Both Ariel and Glick have been prominent figures advocating for settlers to be able to enter and pray in the Al-Aqsa compound, through the Moroccan Gate that leads to the Western Wall plaza.
On Monday evening, thousands of Israeli performed prayers at the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism, to mark the Day of Atonement.
Israeli security forces set up checkpoints on roads leading to the Western Wall, and Palestinians were required to show their identity cards at the gates of the Al-Aqsa compound in order to enter.
Israeli settlers regularly enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and often illicitly perform prayers on the site, where they believe the Second Jewish Temple once stood.
Some right-wing Israeli activists, like Glick, have advocated for the destruction of the Muslim compound to make way for a Third Jewish Temple.
The activists have repeatedly sought to build support for an increased Jewish presence at the site, despite a longstanding joint guardianship agreement between Israel and Jordan, which retains custodianship over Christian and Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.
According to the agreement, non-Muslim prayer is not authorised at Al-Aqsa. Israeli forces, however, regularly accompany groups of settlers deliberately violating the rules in the compound.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam, was also Islam’s first Qibla, the direction towards which Muslims must turn to pray, before that was changed to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
Palestinians fear that settler tours inside the Al-Aqsa compound may erode their claims to Jerusalem’s Old City, and further extinguish their aspirations for full rights and a state of their own, with occupied East Jerusalem as its capital, as part of a two-state solution.
Israel’s claim over the city has been emboldened by the recent decision by the US government of Donald Trump to recognize the city as the capital of Israel and moving its embassy in the country from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
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