The Palestinian Ma’an news agency, citing spokesperson for the Islamic Waqf (Endowment) organization Firas al-Dibs, said that a total of nearly 167 Israeli settlers entered the compound through the Moroccan Gate in the early hours of Sunday and throughout the afternoon.
He said the settlers, who were being escorted by heavily-armed Israeli forces, provocatively toured the holy site to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Passover, also known as Pesach.
Dibs further said that a large group of Israeli settlers performed Jewish religious rituals in the compound, which sits just above the Western Wall plaza and houses both the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosques.
Locals say Israeli settlers routinely “raid” the sacred compound via the Moroccan Gate, tour the site, and leave through the Chain Gate.
The Israelis regard the site as their most holy place, as it is located where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood.
The Jewish visitation of al-Aqsa is permitted, but according to an agreement signed between Israel and Jordan — which is the custodian of the holy sites in the compound — after Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem al-Quds in 1967, non-Muslim worship at the compound is strictly prohibited.
Visits accompanied by worship thus anger the Palestinians, who have repeatedly warned of Israeli attempts to change the status quo of the al-Aqsa compound, the third holiest site in Islam.
Furthermore, the number of Israeli lawmakers who enter the sacred compound has increased since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided last July to allow such visits once every three months.
Many of the Knesset members are right-wing extremists who support the demolition of the Islamic site in order to build a Jewish temple in its place.
The occupied Palestinian territories have witnessed new tensions ever since US President Donald Trump announced a unilateral decision in December 2017 to recognize Jerusalem al-Quds as Israel’s “capital” and relocate the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the occupied city.
The decision dealt a blow to the Palestinians, who view the eastern sector of the occupied city as the capital of their future state.