Israeli police raid Al-Aqsa mosque for 2nd time, sparking fears of ‘a spiral of violence’

Dozens of heavily-armed Israeli police forced their way into the al-Qibli prayer hall in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in East Jerusalem on Wednesday night, while nearly 20,000 worshippers were still performing the Ramadan Taraweeh night prayer.

Israeli police assaulted Palestinian worshippers, beating them with clubs and targeting them with concussion grenades, tear gas canisters and rubber-coated steel bullets.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said 12 Palestinians had sustained injuries during the raid, including from rubber-tipped bullets and beatings, in clashes with police. It said Israeli forces had prevented its medics from reaching the area.

This comes after Israeli police raided Al-Aqsa mosque before dawn on Wednesday to try to clear groups it said were barricaded inside. This led to clashes with worshippers and triggered an exchange of crossborder fire with Gaza.

Palestinian militants fired at least nine rockets from Gaza into Israel, prompting air strikes from Israel which hit what it said were weapon production sites for the Islamist group Hamas, which controls the blockaded coastal enclave.

Hamas did not claim responsibility for the rocket attacks but said they were a response to the raid on Al-Aqsa, where clashes in 2021 set off a 10-day war with Gaza.

Ground-shaking explosions from the airstrikes rocked Gaza. Witnesses said Israeli tanks also shelled Hamas positions.

“We are not interested in an escalation but we are ready for any scenario,” Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari said.

The Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, is Islam’s third holiest site and tens of thousands come to pray there during Ramadan. It is also Judaism’s most sacred site, revered as Temple Mount, a vestige of the two biblical Jewish temples.

The Arab League on Wednesday strongly condemned the Israeli police raid, saying it put regional stability at risk.

In a statement issued after an emergency meeting on the incident, the League condemned what it called “crimes committed by the Israeli occupation forces against defenseless Muslim worshippers” in the mosque.

The pre-dawn raid risked “igniting a spiral of violence that threatens security and stability in the region and the world”, it added.