Israeli police invaded the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem early on Wednesday, claiming they were there to remove “agitators.” Hamas, a Palestinian Islamist organization, called this action “unprecedented” and called it a crime. Palestinians in the West Bank were urged by Hamas, the group that controls the Gaza Strip, to “go en masse to the Al-Aqsa mosque to defend it.” In order to remove “agitators” who had barricaded themselves inside with pyrotechnics, sticks, and stones, according to Israeli police, they had to enter the mosque. Tens of thousands of Muslims come to Al-Aqsa to worship during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which draws conflicts and violence between Palestinians and Israelis to the mosque compound in the Old City of east Jerusalem that Israel has seized. The holiest place for Judaism, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, is erected on top of the sacred Muslim site. Nearly halfway through Ramadan, new violence has broken out as Jews get ready to celebrate Passover beginning Wednesday night. Video of what appear to be fireworks explosions inside the mosque and individuals hurling rocks has been made public by the Israeli police. Another police video depicts riot police entering the mosque while being bombarded by fireworks blasts. The video then shows a blocked door, crates of pyrotechnics on the ground, and police leading at least five individuals outside while handcuffing them behind their backs. Israeli police reported that after “several law-breaking youths and masked agitators” barricaded themselves inside the mosque with fireworks, sticks, and stones, they were forced to enter when rockets were fired. In a statement, the police claimed that “these instigators fortified it, hours after the (last evening) Taraweeh prayer in order to disrupt public order and desecrate the mosque.” Police stated they were forced to enter the enclosure to free them in order to allow for the Fajr (dawn) prayer and prevent a violent disruption after many and protracted attempts to talk to them failed. When the police arrived, “a large group of agitators threw stones at them and fired fireworks from inside the mosque,” according to the police, who also stated one officer was struck in the thigh by a stone. The statement continued, “Police detained the rioters” who “caused damage to the mosque and desecrated it,” without mentioning the number of persons held. According to AFP journalists and witnesses, three rockets were fired from the northern Gaza Strip toward Israeli territory after the announcement of the confrontations at Al-Aqsa. While the Israeli army announced that rocket warning sirens had been activated in many Israeli metropolitan centers near the Gaza Strip, AFP journalists claimed to have seen three rockets fired from a distance while witnesses claimed to have seen further rockets. Five rockets fired from the Gaza Strip were reportedly intercepted by the aerial defense system near Sderot in southern Israel, and four further rockets reportedly fell in unpopulated areas, according to the Israeli army. Numerous protesters burned tires in the streets of Gaza over the course of the night. They swore, “We will defend and guard the Al-Aqsa mosque.” Egypt denounced the “storming” of the Al-Aqsa mosque by Israeli authorities as well as “the accompanying blatant attacks” against worshippers. According to a statement from Egypt’s foreign ministry, “Egypt holds Israel, the occupying power, accountable for this dangerous escalation that could undermine the truce efforts in which Egypt is engaged with its regional and international partners.” Since the beginning of the year, when one of the most right-wing governments in Israel’s history gained office, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has descended into a spiral of bloodshed. 91 Palestinians, 15 Israelis, and one Ukrainian have died in the war since January, according to an AFP count based on official sources from both sides. The figures for the Palestinian side include both civilians and combatants. They include two Arabs, who are a minority group in Israel.
ROME: Pope Francis was to undergo Wednesday an operation on a painful abdominal hernia, reviving concerns over the 86-year-old’s increasingly fragile health.Francis arrived mid-morning at