Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel was dubbed by the Palestinian militant group as Operation “al Aqsa Storm,” in reference to the al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem that has historically been a focus of tension between Jews and Muslims.
The mosque is currently managed by the Waqf, a trust controlled by Jordan, under a status quo agreement.
Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, which rules in areas of the West Bank and has no control over Gaza, said that the root of the current situation is, among other reasons, in “Israeli aggression” against Islamic sites such as al Aqsa, a claim that the Israeli government denies.
The conflict between Arabs and Israelis reached one of the highest points of tension this year when the Israeli police violently entered the religious complex and tried to evacuate the faithful.
The violent images of the police entering the site to arrest Muslims considered “agitators”, according to Israel, generated strong reactions in the Palestinian territories and throughout the Muslim world.
The events occurred during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and on the eve of the Jewish Passover holiday.
Here we tell you the story of the al Aqsa mosque, which has now become especially relevant after the Hamas attack in Israel and the Israeli counteroffensive in the Gaza Strip.
At the center of monotheistic religions
Islam says that the Prophet Muhammad was taken from Mecca to al Aqsa and from there to heaven during a single night in 620 AD
Furthermore, in The Quran, the holy book of Islam, it is reported that several people who Muslims consider prophets made pilgrimages there, such as Ibrahim (Abraham), Dawud (David), Sulaiman (Solomon), Ilyas (Elijah) and Isa (Jesus).
Located in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem, al Aqsa stands on a hill known to Muslims as al Haram al Sharif or The Noble Sanctuary.
This complex is home to two Muslim holy sites: the Dome of the Rock and the al Aqsa or Qibli mosque, built in the 8th century AD
The 14-hectare site is known to Jews as Har ha Bayit or Temple Mount.
The same place, the Temple Mount, is also the holiest site for Jews.
They believe that King Solomon built the first temple there 3,000 years ago and that a second Jewish temple built on the site was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70.
Who manages Aqsa currently?
Israel captured the Esplanade of Mosques in the 1967 war between Israel and its Arab neighbors, and annexed it along with the rest of East Jerusalem and nearby parts of the West Bank.
The areas were under Egyptian and Jordanian control at the time, and Israel’s action never received international recognition.
The Hashemite monarch of Jordan is the official custodian of both Muslim places of worship in al Aqsa. He appoints members of a foundation independent of Israel’s government – which is known as an Islamic waqf – to oversee the site.
Non-Muslims can visit the site of al Aqsa, but only believers of this religion are allowed to pray inside the Esplanade of the Mosques.
Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, for its part, prohibits Jews from entering the Temple Mount complex because it is considered too sacred to set foot on.
Israel’s government allows Christians and Jews to visit the site only as tourists, and only for four hours a day and five days a week.
Jews pray at the Western Wall, below the Temple Mount, believed to be the last remnant of Solomon’s temple.
What conflicts have broken out in al Aqsa?
In 2000, Ariel Sharon, leader of Israel’s main opposition party at the time, led a group of lawmakers from the right-wing Likud party to the site, where he assured: “The Temple Mount is in our hands and will remain in our hands.” . “It is the holiest place in Judaism and it is the right of every Jew to visit the Temple Mount.”
Palestinians protested, and heavy clashes broke out, leading to the second Palestinian Intifada, a wave of violence also known as the al Aqsa Intifada.
More than 3,000 Palestinians and about 1,000 Israelis died in it.
In May 2021, Palestinians protesting against the eviction of families from their territories clashed with Israeli police at the al Aqsa site, resulting in at least 163 Palestinians and 17 Israeli police officers being injured.
In response to this, the Islamist group Hamas launched rockets towards Jerusalem from the Gaza Strip, triggering an 11-day conflict with Israel.
Last year, during the first overlap in three decades between the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish holiday of Passover, violent scenes broke out when Israeli police cleared the courtyard before escorting Jewish visitors into the complex.
Police said stones were also thrown at the Western Wall.
In April, police raided the al Aqsa mosque, indicating that “agitators” had barricaded themselves along with worshipers inside.
The protests began over reports that Jewish extremists planned to sacrifice a goat on the Temple Mount during Passover, as was done in biblical times before the Romans destroyed the temple.
The Israeli police and religious authorities stated that they would not allow such an act.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that the police “must act to restore order…ensure free access to all religions and maintain the status quo on the Temple Mount.”
However, the Islamic waqf that manages the esplanade called the police raid “a flagrant violation of the identity and function of the mosque as a place of worship exclusively for Muslims.”