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Hundreds of Jewish settlers storm al-Aqsa compound

News - Middle East

Flanked by heavily armed Israeli forces, more than 1,700 Jewish settlers have entered the religious site since Sunday.

al-Aqsa compound

Hundreds of Jewish settlers, flanked by heavily armed Israeli Special Forces, have stormed al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem to mark the Jewish holiday of Passover.

The Palestinian news agency WAFA reported that around 500 settlers entered al-Aqsa Mosque in the early hours of Thursday before performing Jewish religious rituals near the Dome of the Rock Mosque.

Firas al-Dib, a spokesman for the Religious Endowments Authority, said at least 491 settlers and 13 Special Forces officers "broke into the compound", bringing the total number of Jewish settlers illegally entering the religious site since Sunday to 1,731.

The ancient marble-and-stone compound - known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif - houses al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third-holiest site, and the 7th-century Dome of the Rock.

Visits by Jewish groups, including politicians, have triggered violence over the years, with Palestinians fearing that Israeli hardliners are trying to take control of the site.

dome

Also on Thursday, hundreds of Jewish settlers, backed by Israeli forces, pushed their way into a religious shrine in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus and began attacking Palestinians, according to witnesses.

Dozens of Palestinian youths had converged on the site in an effort to block the incursion but were quickly dispersed by Israeli soldiers firing tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition.

Jews claim the site is the burial place of the biblical figure Joseph. Palestinians, however, challenge this assertion, saying a celebrated Muslim religious leader - Sheikh Youssef Dawiqat - is buried there.

The tomb, a site of violence and controversy, was turned over to the Palestinians in 2000, but Israel accused Palestinian mobs of desecrating the tomb.


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