Middle East round-up: Israeli forces storm Al-Aqsa Mosque

Israeli forces storm Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, airstrikes in Syria, and visualising the Iraq war.

The pictures coming out of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem this week were hard to look at. They showed Israeli forces storming the holy site and attacking Palestinians worshipping inside. The raid took place during Ramadan, and after night prayers, many of those inside were taking part in a form of Muslim worship known as itikaf, which involves staying in a mosque for a period of time.Witnesses said that Israeli forces smashed through the upper windows of Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest in Islam, and then threw stun grenades and fired tear gas at the people inside. Videos show Israeli soldiers beating the Palestinians with batons, and forcing them to lay handcuffed on the floor of the mosque before being taken away under detention.

Israeli police said they were forced to enter the mosque because “masked agitators” had locked themselves inside, and were armed with fireworks, sticks and rocks. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who was already under fire from a significant cross section of the Israeli public over government policies – said Israel was “committed to maintaining freedom of worship”.

The violent incident has led to talk of a further escalation, particularly with a large number of ultranationalist Jews expected to enter Al-Aqsa compound to mark the Jewish festival of Passover, which began on Wednesday.

Palestinians are warning that the increased presence of Jews at the site may be part of an attempt to gradually take it over. A Jewish activist has already been arrested for planning to conduct an animal sacrifice for Passover there – a practice considered provocative, and one that hasn’t been done since ancient times.

Ultranationalism has been growing ever more powerful in Israel, with a presence now at the highest echelons of government. On Sunday, the Israeli cabinet approved plans for a national guard that would come under the direct control of the far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, leading to accusations that he plans to use the force to target Palestinians.

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Camel wrestling: Two males fighting each other, a female nearby to keep their interest going. It’s a Turkish sport seen as part of the country’s heritage. Habibe Yuksel is the only woman on Turkey’s Aegean coast officially involved in camel wrestling, and believes she’s keeping her family’s history and culture alive. But animal rights groups aren’t so sure, and call the practice cruel.Quote of the Week
“One of the most priceless tasks in the world is reuniting a mother with her child. Being part of that happiness meant a lot to us as well.” | Derya Yanik, Turkey’s family and social services minister, after a baby girl was reunited with her mother, who had been mistakenly declared dead after the devastating earthquakes in February. The child had endured 128 hours under rubble, and was only reunited with her family after 54 days of separation.

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