JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- After Israeli forces banned them from entering Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem’s Old City, a group of Palestinians performed prayers at the mosque’s gates Tuesday night.
More than 40 Palestinians have been detained, interrogated, and banned from the Al-Aqsa Mosque
compound amid heightened security restrictions imposed by Israel leading up to the Jewish holiday of Passover.
The group of banned Palestinians headed to the mosque to perform both the Maghrib (sunset prayer) and Isha (night prayer) on Tuesday, but were prevented from entering the holy site by Israeli forces, and prayed at the gates of the mosque instead.
On Monday night, Israeli forces raided the compound following evening prayers, claiming that they were searching for a bag belonging to a Palestinian man who was detained there earlier.
The following morning, some 30 Israeli settlers entered the compound under Israeli military protection amid Passover celebrations.
Palestinian Prisoners’ Society (PPS) head in Jerusalem Nadi Qaws told Ma’an last week that “for (Palestinian) Jerusalemites, the Jewish holiday season means an escalation in arbitrary detentions, house raids, and searches -- measures that terrify families. The installation of additional security checkpoints, particularly at Al-Aqsa Mosque’s gates and in the Old City, only increase tensions in Jerusalem.”
Meanwhile, Israeli forces have almost entirely sealed the occupied West Bank -- excluding urgent humanitarian cases -- for more than a week for Passover preventing scores of Palestinians with Israeli-issued permits to access their jobs in Jerusalem and Israel.
Severe restrictions on movement for Palestinians are typically implemented by Israeli authorities during Jewish holidays for alleged security purposes. The closures do not apply to Israeli settlers residing illegally in the West Bank.
The Passover holiday in 2016 was marked by near-daily conflict as right-wing Israelis descended on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound to perform religious rituals.
The third holiest site in Islam, Al-Aqsa is also venerated as Judaism's most holy place, as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood. While Jewish visitation is permitted to the compound, non-Muslim worship is prohibited according to an agreement signed between Israel and the Jordanian government after Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.
Despite this agreement, Israeli authorities regularly allow Jewish visitors to enter the site and carry out religious worship -- often under armed guard.
According to the Islamic Endowment that manages the compound, 2016 saw the highest number of incursions at the site by right-wing Israelis than previously recorded years, with the incursions being often accompanied by assaults on employees of the endowment.
Such visits spark frustration among Palestinians who see the incursions as a direct threat to Palestinian sovereignty and any potential for a future independent Palestinian state, which has been effectively marred by increasing settler presence across Palestinian land.