Israeli forces attack worshippers in Al-Aqsa Mosque raid

The Arab League is set to hold an emergency meeting to discuss an Israeli police raid on the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem that left at least 12 Palestinians injured, as Israeli Prime Miniser Benjamin Netanyahu said he was working to “maintain the status quo” at the holy site.

The Arab League meeting has been called by Jordan, Egypt and Palestinian officials, with tensions remaining high in Jerusalem since Israeli police attacked worshippers in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound overnight on Wednesday, during the holy month of Ramadan.The raids continued into the morning when Israeli forces were once again seen assaulting and pushing Palestinians out of the compound and preventing them from praying – before Israelis were allowed in under police protection.

The League had earlier condemned the attack, with Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit saying in a statement: “The extremist approaches that control the policy of the Israeli government will lead to widespread confrontations with the Palestinians if they are not put to an end.”

At least 400 Palestinians were arrested on Wednesday and remain in Israeli custody, according to Palestinian officials. They are being held at a police station in Atarot in occupied East Jerusalem.

Palestinian witnesses said Israeli forces used excessive force including stun grenades and tear gas, causing suffocation injuries to the worshippers, and beatings with batons and rifles.The Palestinian Red Crescent reported that three of the injured people were transferred to hospital. It also said in a statement that Israeli forces prevented its medics from reaching Al-Aqsa.

The raids continued until Wednesday morning when Israeli forces were once again seen assaulting and pushing Palestinians out of the mosque compound and preventing them from praying, before Israelis were allowed in under police protection.

“I was sitting on a chair reciting [the Quran],” an elderly woman told the Reuters news agency while sitting outside the mosque, struggling to catch her breath. “They hurled stun grenades, one of them hit my chest,” she said as she began to cry.Israeli police said in a statement that they were forced to enter the compound after “masked agitators” locked themselves inside the mosque with fireworks, sticks and stones.

“When the police entered, stones were thrown at them and fireworks were fired from inside the mosque by a large group of agitators,” the statement said, adding that a police officer was wounded in the leg.

In a statement issued later on Wednesday, Netanyahu said that he was trying to calm the situation at Al-Aqsa.

“Israel is committed to maintaining freedom of worship, freedom of access to all religions and the status quo and will not allow violent extremists to change that,” Netanyahu said.

Tension has already been high in occupied East Jerusalem and West Bank for months. There are fears of further violence as important religious festivals – the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and the Jewish Passover – converge.

Al Jazeera’s Natasha Ghoneim said that the attacks were anticipated as there have been calls on social media urging Palestinians to come to Al-Aqsa and “defend it from the occupiers”.

A number of Jews are expected to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound during routine visiting hours of non-Muslims.

“People who usually visit are nationalists with very conservative ideology and although the Jews are not allowed to pray inside the compound, their mere presence is a sensitive topic,” Ghoneim reported from occupied East Jerusalem.

Palestinian groups condemned the latest attacks on worshippers, which they described as a crime.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said in a statement “What happened in Jerusalem is a major crime against the worshipers. Prayer in Al-Aqsa Mosque is not with the permission of the [Israeli] occupation, but rather it is our right.

“Al-Aqsa is for the Palestinians and for all Arabs and Muslims, and the raiding of it is a spark of revolution against the occupation,” he added.

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