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Sunday, December 04, 2022

Israeli police raid Jerusalem holy site after stone-throwing

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by Joseph Cross | The Associated Press

JERUSALEM – Israeli police in full riot gear stormed a sensitive Jerusalem holy site sacred to Jews and Muslims on Friday after Palestinian youths threw stones at a gate where they were stationed.

The renewed violence at the site, which is sacred to Jews and Muslims, came despite Israel temporarily halting Jewish visits, which is seen by Palestinians as provocation. Medics said more than two dozen Palestinians were wounded, before the conflict subsided hours later.

Thousands of Muslims took part in the main Friday prayer in the afternoon, which was organized as planned.

Palestinians and Israeli police have clashed regularly at the site over the past week at a time of heightened tensions after a string of deadly attacks inside Israel and raids in the occupied West Bank. Three rockets have been fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip, controlled by the Islamic terrorist group Hamas.

The chain of events has raised fears of a repeat of last year, when protests and violence finally boiled over in Jerusalem, helping to ignite an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas and sectarian violence in Israel’s mixed cities.

Palestinian youths pelted stones at police at a gate leading to the compound, according to two Palestinian witnesses who spoke on condition of anonymity due to security concerns. The police, in full riot gear, then entered the premises, firing rubber bullets and stun grenades.

Israeli police said some Palestinians carrying Hamas flags began collecting stones and building rough forts before dawn. Police said that after the stone-pelting started, they waited till the morning prayers were over before entering the premises.

Video footage shows police firing at a group of journalists holding cameras and loudly identifying themselves as members of the press. At least three Palestinian journalists were injured by rubber bullets fired by police.

Some older Palestinians urged youths to stop throwing stones, but they were ignored, as dozens of masked youths pelted stones and fireworks at police. A tree caught fire near the gate where the clash started. Police said it was ignited by fireworks thrown by Palestinians.

The Palestinian Red Crescent Medical Service said at least 31 Palestinians were injured, with 14 taken to hospitals. Police said a policeman was hit in the face with a stone and was taken for treatment.

Another group of dozens of Palestinians said they wanted to clear the area before noon, the main weekly prayer, after violence subsided later in the morning. They went ahead, attended by about 150,000 worshipers, according to the Islamic Endowment that manages the site.

After the prayer, a small group of Palestinians waving Hamas flags marched in protest and tried to break into an empty police post inside the compound. Police used a drone to release tear gas at them, causing a crowd of people to disperse into the Esplanade.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem is the third holiest site in Islam. The vast esplanade on which it is built is the holiest site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it was the site of two Jewish temples in antiquity. It is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and clashes there have often ignited violence elsewhere.

Palestinians and neighboring Jordan, the custodian of the site, accused Israel of violating the long-standing system, allowing large numbers of Jews to visit the site under police escort.

In recent years the ban on Jewish prayer at the site has been lifted, raising fears among Palestinians that Israel is planning to occupy or divide the site.

Israel says it remains committed to the status quo and blames the violence instigated by Hamas. It said its security forces were working to remove stone-throwers to ensure freedom of worship for Jews and Muslims.

Visits by Jewish groups were suspended from Friday for the last 10 days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, as they have done in the past.

This year, Ramadan coincided with the week-long Jewish Passover and major Christian holidays, with thousands of people of all three faiths flocking to the Old City after most coronavirus restrictions were lifted.

The Old City is in East Jerusalem, which Israel captured along with the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Middle East war. Israel does not recognize East Jerusalem internationally and considers the entire city as its capital. The Palestinians want an independent state in all three regions and see East Jerusalem as their capital.

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