Palestinians clash with Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem on Friday before thousands of people gathered for prayers during the holy month of Ramadan. Medics said at least 152 Palestinians were injured.
The holy site, which is sacred to Jews and Muslims, has often been the focus of Israeli-Palestinian unrest, and tensions had already escalated amid a recent wave of violence. Last year, clashes at the site helped spark an 11-day war with Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.
Conflicts come at especially sensitive times. This year Ramadan coincides with Passover, a major week-long Jewish holiday that begins at sunset on a Friday, and Christian Holy Week, which ends on Easter Sunday. Thousands of pilgrims are expected to visit the Old City of Jerusalem, home to major sites sacred to all three religions.
Hours after the conflict began, police announced that they had ended the violence and had arrested “hundreds” of suspects. He said the mosque has been reopened and Friday afternoon prayers will be held as usual. Thousands of people were expected to come.
Israeli officials said they had previously held talks with Muslim leaders to ensure peace and offer prayers, but Palestinian youths pelted stones at police, triggering violence. Palestinian witnesses, who spoke on condition of anonymity over security concerns, said a small group of Palestinians threw stones at police, who later entered the compound, leading to widespread clashes.
Videos circulating online showed Palestinians throwing stones and fireworks and police firing tear gas and stun grenades on the esplanade that surrounds the mosque. Others showed Namazis barricading themselves inside the mosque.
Later in the morning, Israeli police broke into the mosque and were arresting people. Israeli security forces rarely enter the building, and when they do it is seen by Palestinians as a major escalation.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Emergency Service said it treated 152 people, many of whom were wounded by rubber-coated bullets or stun grenades, or beaten with batons. The endowment said a guard at the site was shot in the eye with a rubber bullet.
Israeli police said three officers were injured in a “massive stone-throwing”, two of whom were evacuated from the scene for treatment.
Israel’s foreign ministry said dozens of masked people carrying Palestinian and Hamas flags marched through the compound before dawn on Friday, collecting stones and other objects in anticipation of unrest.
“Police were forced to enter the ground to disperse the crowd and remove stones and rocks to prevent further violence,” it tweeted.
Police said they waited until the prayer was over and the crowd began to disperse. In a statement, it said mobs began pelting stones towards the Western Wall, a nearby Jewish holy site, forcing them to act.
Palestinians view any major police deployment in al-Aqsa as a major provocation.
Israel’s Minister of National Security, Omar Barlev, who oversees the police force, said Israel had “no interest” in the violence at the holy site, but that the police were forced to confront “violent elements”. who attacked them with stones and metal bars. He said Israel is committed to freedom of worship for Jews and Muslims alike.
The mosque is the third holiest site in Islam. It is built on top of a hill in the Old City of Jerusalem which is the holiest site for Jews, who refer to it as Temple Mount because it was the site of Jewish temples in antiquity. It has been a major flashpoint for Israeli-Palestinian violence for decades and was the center of the 2000–2005 Palestinian Intifada, or insurgency.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem, al-Aqsa and other major holy sites in the 1967 war in a move not recognized internationally. Palestinians want the eastern part of the city to be the capital of a future independent state, including the West Bank and Gaza, which Israel also captured during the war some 55 years earlier.
Tensions have risen in recent weeks after a series of attacks by Palestinians that killed 14 people inside Israel. Israel has carried out a wave of arrests and military operations in the occupied West Bank, triggering conflict with the Palestinians.
A 17-year-old man died early Friday from wounds sustained during clashes with Israeli forces in Genin in the occupied West Bank a day earlier, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.
At least 25 Palestinians have been killed in a recent wave of violence, many of whom were attacked or involved in clashes, but there were also an unarmed woman and a lawyer who appear to have been killed, according to an Associated Press count. Mistake.
Weeks of protests and clashes in Jerusalem during Ramadan last year eventually ignited an 11-day war with Hamas, the Islamic terrorist group that rules the Gaza Strip.
Israel lifted sanctions and took other steps to defuse tensions ahead of Ramadan, but attacks and military raids have sparked another cycle of unrest.
Hamas condemned the “brutal attack” on worshipers in al-Aqsa by Israeli forces, saying Israel would “feel all consequences”. It called on all Palestinians to “stand with our people in Jerusalem”.
Earlier this week, Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza called on Palestinians to camp at the al-Aqsa Mosque over the weekend. Palestinians have long feared that Israel was planning to capture the site or divide it.
Israeli officials say they are committed to maintaining the status quo, but in recent years nationalist and religious Jews have visited the site in large numbers, accompanied by police protection.
In recent weeks, a radical Jewish group has called on people to bring animals to the site to be sacrificed for Passover, offering cash rewards for those who succeed or try. 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.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall, issued a statement calling on Muslim leaders to take action to stop the violence. It also noted that “bringing sacrifices to the Temple Mount today is in conflict with the decision of the Chief Rabbi of Israel.”