ERUSALEM (Ma’an) — The year 2016 saw the highest number of incursions on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound by right-wing Israelis than previous recorded years, according to a statement released Saturday by the Islamic Waqf (Endowment) which manages the holy site.
Head of the religious trust’s public relations department, Firas al-Dibs said in the statement that a total of 14,806 Israeli settler incursions occurred on the compound in 2016 via the Old City’s Moroccan Gate.
Al-Dibs added that the highest number of Israeli settler incursions on the Al-Aqsa compound occurred in October, with 2,856 such visits recorded by the trust, as the month marks several Jewish holidays that typically coincide with Jewish visits to the site.
Al-Dibs pointed out that these incursions included assaults on employees of the Islamic Waqf, with Israeli forces routinely banning them from entering the holy site. Hussam Sidr, a guard at Al-Aqsa, was the latest to be banned by Israeli authorities from entering the compound for six months, while another guard, Fadi Bakir, was also detained on Wednesday.
Severe restrictions on movement for Palestinians are also typically implemented at the holy site by Israeli authorities for alleged security purposes, particularly during Jewish holidays.
Tensions around Al-Aqsa Mosque were a main contributor to increasing unrest that began in October 2015, after right-wing Israelis made frequent visits to the site during the Jewish high holiday season.
The compound, which sits just above the Western Wall plaza, houses both the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The third holiest site in Islam, it is also venerated as Judaism’s most holy place, as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
While Jewish visitation is permitted to the compound, non-Muslim worship is prohibited according to an agreement signed between Israel and the Jordanian government after Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.
Despite this agreement, Israeli authorities regularly allow Jewish visitors to enter the site and carry out religious worship — often under armed guard. Such visits are typically made by right-wingers attempting to unsettle the status quo at the site, and coincide with restrictions on Palestinian access, including bans on entrance and detentions, and often result in violent clashes between Israeli forces and Muslim worshipers.