Tensions build around Jerusalem shrine after Syria rocket attack

Tensions Build Around Jerusalem Shrine After Syria Rocket Attack
Israel Passover, © Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
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By Ilan Ben Zion, Associated Press

Israeli warplanes and artillery struck targets in Syria following rare rocket fire from the country’s north-eastern neighbour, as Jewish-Muslim tensions reached a peak on Sunday at a volatile Jerusalem shrine with simultaneous religious rituals.

Thousands of Jewish worshippers gathered at the city’s Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews can pray, for a mass priestly benediction prayer service for the Passover holiday.


At the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a walled esplanade above the Western Wall, hundreds of Palestinians performed prayers as part of observances during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Hundreds of Jews also visited the Al-Aqsa compound under heavy police guard, to whistles and religious chants from Palestinians protesting at their presence.

Israel Palestinians Ramadan
Palestinian worshippers perform the ‘tarawih’ Ramadan prayer, next to the Dome of Rock at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem (Mahmoud Illean/AP)


Such tours by religious and nationalist Jews have increased in size and frequency over the years, and are viewed with suspicion by many Palestinians who fear that Israel plans one day to take over the site or partition it.

Israeli officials say they have no intention of changing long-standing arrangements that allow Jews to visit, but not pray in the Muslim-administered site.

However, the country is now governed by the most right-wing government in its history, with ultra-nationalists in senior positions.

Tensions have soared in the past week at the flashpoint shrine after an Israeli police raid on the mosque.


On several occasions, Palestinians have barricaded themselves inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque with stones and firecrackers, demanding the right to pray there overnight, something Israel has in the past only allowed during the last 10 days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Police removed them by force, detaining hundreds and leaving dozens injured.

The violence at the shrine triggered rocket fire by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon, starting on Wednesday, and Israeli air strikes targeted both areas.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah’s media office announced that the militant group’s chief, Hassan Nasrallah, received a delegation headed by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Sunday.


Israel Palestinians
Israeli police escort Jewish visitors marking the Passover to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound (Mahmoud Illean/AP)

The two discussed “the most important developments in occupied Palestine, the course of events at al-Aqsa Mosque, and the escalating resistance in the West Bank and Gaza, in addition to general political developments in the region, the readiness of the resistance axis and the co-operation of its parties”, the statement said.

Haniyeh, who arrived in Lebanon last week shortly before rockets were launched at Israel from south Lebanon, had been scheduled to make a public appearance in Beirut on Friday.


But it was cancelled for security reasons following the exchange of strikes between Lebanon and Israel.

No group has officially claimed responsibility for the rocket attacks, but Israel has accused Hamas of being behind them.

Late on Saturday and early on Sunday, militants in Syria fired rockets in two salvos towards Israel and the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights.

A Damascus-based Palestinian group loyal to the Syrian government claimed responsibility for the first round of rockets, saying it was in retaliation for the Al-Aqsa raids.

In the first salvo, one rocket landed in a field in the Golan Heights.

Fragments of another destroyed missile fell into Jordanian territory near the Syrian border, Jordan’s military reported.

Palestinians Israel
Palestinians burn tyres during a protest over an Israeli police raid on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City (Adel Hana/AP)

In the second round, two of the rockets crossed the border into Israel, with one being intercepted and the second landing in an open area, the Israeli military said.

Israel responded with artillery fire into the area in Syria from where the rockets were fired.

Later, the military said Israeli fighter jets attacked Syrian army sites, including a compound of Syria’s 4th Division and radar and artillery posts.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed the violence in a telephone call with Israeli counterpart Isaac Herzog late Saturday, telling him that Muslims cannot remain silent about the “provocations and threats” against the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and said the hostilities that have spread to Gaza and Lebanon should not be allowed to escalate further.

In addition to the cross-border fighting, three people were killed over the weekend in Palestinian attacks in Israel and the occupied West Bank.

Hundreds of people, including national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, attended the funeral for two British-Israeli sisters, Maia Dee, 20, and Rina Dee, 15, who were killed in a shooting on Friday in the West Bank.

Their mother, who was also shot in the attack, remains in hospital in a critical condition.

They were buried following an emotional ceremony in the Jewish settlement of Kfar Etzion in the West Bank.

As the two bodies were brought into the room, one of their sisters threw herself down and hugged the covered bodies.

“May we and no-one else in the whole world ever know so much sorrow. Amen,” said their father, Lee Dee.

Israel Palestinians Italy
People lay flowers at the site in Tel Aviv, Israel, where Italian tourist Alessandro Parini was killed in a Palestinian attack (Oded Balilty/AP)

Italian tourist Alessandro Parini, 35, a lawyer from Rome who had arrived in the city a few hours earlier with some friends for a brief Easter holiday, was killed in a suspected car-ramming on Tel Aviv’s beachside promenade on Friday.

More than 90 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire so far this year, at least half of them affiliated with militant groups, according to a tally by the Associated Press.

Palestinian attacks on Israelis have killed 19 people in that time, all but one of whom were civilians.

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