UN calls for restraint against violence following attack at Al-Aqsa mosque

UN News/Maher Nasser

UN News UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland is appealing for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to exercise restraint following the latest violence surrounding a holy site in Jerusalem. Israeli forces stormed Al-Aqsa mosque, also commonly known as al-Qibli mosque, arresting more than 350 people, according to media reports.  

Israeli jets hit sites in Lebanon and Gaza early on Friday, in retaliation for rocket attacks it blamed on the Islamist group Hamas, as tensions following police raids on the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem this week threatened to spiral out of control.

Two explosions were heard in Gaza late on Thursday. It was not immediately clear what had been targeted but Israel said its jets hit targets including tunnels and weapons manufacturing sites of Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the blockaded southern coastal strip.

Wennesland issued a statement saying he was appalled by the images of violence inside the mosque, which is located in the Old City of Jerusalem and considered the third holiest site in Islam. 

“I am disturbed by the apparent beating of Palestinians by Israeli security forces and large number of arrests. I also strongly reject the stockpiling and use of fireworks and rocks by Palestinians inside the mosque,” he said. 

Al-Qibli mosque, within the overall compound of Al-Aqsa, is situated on Temple Mount, which is sacred to Jews.   

Violent clashes took place there two years ago, sparking 11 days of deadly conflict between Israel and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza.

Briefing journalists at UN Headquarters, UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, said Secretary-General António Guterres had been “shocked and appalled by the images” he had seen of the violence and beating by Israeli security forces inside the al-Qibli mosque.

“At a time of the calendar which is holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims, this should be a time for peace and not violence. Places of worship should only be used for peaceful religious observances.”

The latest raid took place during the holy month of Ramadan and on the eve of the Jewish Passover holiday, against a backdrop of rising unrest between Israelis and Palestinians and continued as Christians mark Easter.

“This holy period and places of worship should be for safe and peaceful religious reflection, noting that nearly 600,000 people have visited the Holy Sites in Jerusalem since the beginning of Ramadan,” said Wennesland, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process

“I call on political, religious and community leaders on all sides to reject incitement, inflammatory rhetoric, and provocative actions.” 

The UN envoy insisted that the “historic status quo” of the holy sites must be upheld, in line with the special role of Jordan, their custodian. 

“Leaders on all sides must act responsibly and refrain from steps that could escalate tensions,” he said, adding that “the indiscriminate firing of rockets from Gaza and retaliation from Israel is unacceptable and must stop.” He said the UN remains in close contact with all parties to de-escalate the situation. 

World governments have echoed the UN for restraint while condemning Israel for attacking the holy site during this holy period.

The UN chief has called for people of faith worldwide to “join their voices in a common prayer for peace”, as the holy festivals of Ramadan, Easter and Passover coincide this week.


Secretary-General António Guterres issued his plea for peace acknowledging that it is “dramatically lacking” in many parts of the world, during an interview with UN News’s Arabic service, ahead of what has now become an annual visit for him, to a Muslim country beset by challenges, during the holy month of Ramadan.

“I think this is the moment for us to be all united for peace. Peace is the most precious thing that we can have in the world”, Mr. Guterres said.

 “So, this is the moment to come together and for those that believe in God (in) different ways, with different expressions, to join their voices in a common prayer for peace.”

The UN chief began his tradition of paying a solidarity visit during Ramadan, while he was High Commissioner for Refugees, running the refugee agency UNHCR – a job he held for ten years, before taking up the UN’s top job in 2017.

“The majority of the refugees were Muslim, and the majority of the communities hosting refugees with enormous generosity and solidarity, were Muslim”, he told UN News’s Reem Abaza, noting that the 1951 Refugee Convention on protection of refugees, is fully in line with the spiritual values of the Holy Quran.

He said his annual visit to refugee camps or settlements as UNHCR chief, where he fasted in solidarity, also provided an opportunity to highlight the generosity being shown by host communities.

“When I became Secretary-General, I thought that this tradition should be maintained – now, not focused on refugee communities, but focused on the Muslim communities that are suffering”, he said.

Asked what insight joining Muslims fasting during Ramadan has given him down the years, the UN chief said it showed to him, “the true face of Islam.”

“The sense of peace, the sense of solidarity, the sense of generosity that I witnessed in the communities hosting refugees, and also the resilience, the courage of the refugees themselves was extremely inspiring. And it remains a very important inspiration of everything I do today, as Secretary-General of the United Nations.”

Next week, to mark what is a special time on the spiritual calendar for the Abrahamic faiths – Islam, Christianity and Judaism – representatives from the world’s major religions, as well as the non-religious, will gather on Friday at UN Headquarters in New York, to pray for peace.

The idea behind the 15 minute moment of contemplation, is to deliver a critical message about peace at a time of so much conflict and suffering worldwide. 

Members of the UN family, including staff, delegates and the press corps, are welcome to attend.  

The moment of prayer for individuals of diverse faiths and beliefs, is due to begin at the Knotted Gun sculpture, at 1230pm local time. 

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