JERUSALEM ( Associated Press) — Israeli police entered the al-Aqsa mosque complex in Jerusalem’s old city on Sunday to secure passage for Jewish visitors to the flashpoint holy site, according to Palestinian medical workers, injuring 17 Palestinians.
The unrest came two days after clashes with the Palestinians at the same location. Violence between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem a year ago turned into an 11-day Gaza War.
The mosque’s hill complex is the third holiest site in Islam, while it is also the holiest for Jews, who call it Temple Mount. Competing claims on the site have led to several rounds of violence.
This year the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the Christian holy week ending in Easter Sunday and the week-long Jewish Passover, are taking place at the same time, with thousands of visitors flocking to the city after the lifting of coronavirus restrictions.
Israeli police accused Palestinians of “desecrating and desecrating” a holy site, while Palestinian officials accused Israel of trying to divide the sensitive holy site. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Radeneh, said: “What happened at the Al-Aqsa Mosque is an alarming escalation, the consequences of which will be borne by the Israeli government alone.”
Police said they entered the compound to facilitate the regular visit of Jews to the holy site. He said Palestinians had stored stones and erected barriers in anticipation of violence.
Omar Barlev, the Israeli minister in charge of the police, said it was important to ensure freedom of worship “but we will not compromise when there is violence and terror.”
Police drove Palestinians out of the sprawling area outside the mosque early on Sunday, while dozens of Palestinians continued to chant “God is great” inside the building. Videos released by the police showed small groups of youths throwing stones, as well as fireworks being fired from inside the mosque.
Palestinians reported brief clashes with Israeli police just outside the mosque complex, while police said Palestinians had thrown stones at buses outside the old city. Paramedics said five people aboard the buses treated for minor injuries in the attacks.
Police released a video showing a crowd of youth pelting stones just outside the Old City. Another video from police, taken inside one of the buses, showed Jewish families sitting on the floor of the vehicle as it continued on its way.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett ordered additional security on public buses bound for the Old City after assessing the situation with top defense officials.
“We are working to calm things down on one hand and taking strong action against violent people on the other,” he said.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Medical Service said 17 Palestinians were injured, with five hospitalized. Israeli police reported nine arrests. By noon, eyewitnesses said the police had left the premises.
Jordan, which serves as the custodian of the holy site, issued a statement condemning Israel’s actions, saying they were “done to maintain the wider peace and prevent violence that threatens security and peace.” undermine all efforts.”
Under a long-standing understanding, Jews are allowed to visit the Temple Mount, but are prohibited from praying there. For decades, Jews avoided worshiping there for religious reasons.
Israeli officials say they are committed to maintaining the status quo, but in recent years large groups of nationalist and religious Jews have been visiting the site regularly. With police protection, which Palestinians see as provocation. The number of visitors often increases during religious holidays. Palestinian officials said around 550 Jewish visitors entered the complex, compared to only a few dozen on most days.
Such practices have raised concerns among Palestinians that Israel is plotting to capture or split the al-Aqsa mosque complex. Israel strongly denies such claims, saying it is committed to protecting freedom of worship for all.
Police said Palestinians had thrown stones toward the Western Wall, a nearby Jewish holy site, as clashes broke out at the site before dawn on Friday. Police entered the force soon after the morning prayers and clashed with dozens of Palestinians.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem, including the Old City along with the West Bank and Gaza, in the 1967 war. The Palestinians want a future state in all three regions. Israel annexed East Jerusalem as it is not recognized internationally and is building and expanding settlements in the occupied West Bank. Hamas controls Gaza, which has been under a blockade by Israel and Egypt since the Islamic militant group seized power in 2007.
A radical Jewish group recently called on people to bring animals to the site to be sacrificed for Passover, offering cash rewards for those who succeeded or those who tried. Israeli police work to stop such activities, but the call was widely circulated by Palestinians on social media, as well as calls from Muslims to stop any sacrifices.
Israeli police accused Palestinians of spreading propaganda on social media, increasing tension.