Jewish settlers converge on J'lem's Aqsa Mosque complex

JERUSALEM (AA) – Hundreds of Jewish settlers forced their way into East Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Thursday, according to a Palestinian official.

“Some 200 settlers stormed the compound under the protection of Israeli police,” Firas al-Dibs, a Palestinian official with Jerusalem’s Religious Endowments Authority (which oversees the city's Muslim and Christian holy sites), said in a statement.

According to al-Dibs, the settlers were accompanied by Israeli MP Shuli Mualem of the right-wing Jewish Home party.

In June, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lifted a three-year ban on Israeli government officials and lawmakers visiting Al-Aqsa, allowing members of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) to visit the flashpoint site once every three months.

In late 2015, Netanyahu had banned MPs from entering the Al-Aqsa compound in an effort to calm tensions that had erupted across the Israeli-occupied West Bank following repeated incursions by Jewish settlers into the site.

For Muslims, Al-Aqsa represents the world's third holiest site. Jews, for their part, refer to the area as the “Temple Mount”, claiming it was the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times.

Israel occupied East Jerusalem, in which the Al-Aqsa is located, during the 1967 Middle East War. It annexed the entire city in 1980, claiming it as its “eternal and undivided” capital in a move never recognized by the international community.