In a fresh provocation to Palestinian Muslim sensibilities, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon on Tuesday stormed the historic Ibrahimi Mosque in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron (Al-Khalil).
“Yaalon, surrounded by Israeli security forces, entered the mosque and stayed for 40 minutes,” Munther Abu Fielat, the mosque’s Palestinian director, told Anadolu Agency. “Muslim worshipers, meanwhile, were prevented from entering or leaving.”
According to Munther, Israeli authorities plan to close the Ibrahimi Mosque to Muslims on Wednesday and Thursday to allow extremist Jewish settlers to pray at the holy site.
Revered by both Muslims and Jews, the site is believed to contain the graves of the prophets Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Since the 1994 massacre of 29 Palestinian worshippers at the mosque by extremist Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein, Israeli authorities have kept Muslim and Jewish worshippers at the site strictly segregated.
The city of Hebron, in which the mosque is located, is home to roughly 160,000 Palestinian Muslims and about 500 Jewish settlers. The latter live in a handful of Jewish-only settlement compounds heavily guarded by Israeli troops.
Tension has also continued to mount at occupied East Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque complex, with Jewish extremists – usually accompanied by Israeli security forces – entering the flashpoint site with increasing frequency.
The violations anger Palestinian Muslims and occasionally lead to violent confrontations.
On Sunday, Jewish extremists raised Israeli flags outside the gates of the mosque compound, while a number of others entered the site via the Al-Mugharbeh Gate before meeting resistance from Palestinian worshipers.
Israeli police again allowed dozens of extremist Jewish settlers to enter the mosque complex on Tuesday morning, according to eyewitnesses.
For Muslims, Al-Aqsa represents the world’s third holiest site. Jews, for their part, refer to the area as the “Temple Mount,” claiming it was the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times. (Anadolu Ajansi)