Hundreds are injured as Israeli police and Palestinians clash in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque
Israel braced itself for more protests on Saturday following clashes at the focal point of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, injuring more than 200 people and as the US, EU and regional powers pushed for calm after days of escalating violence.
In the unrest following Friday’s Muslim prayers, Israeli riot police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades at Palestinians that threw stones, bottles and fireworks at officers at Islam’s third holiest site, which is also revered by Jews.
Israeli police said 18 officers had been injured, while the Palestinian Red Crescent reported that 205 Palestinians had been injured in the violence at Al-Aqsa and across annexed East Jerusalem, including more than 80 in hospital. were recorded.
Video footage showed Israeli forces storming the expansive square of the mosque and firing sound grenades into the building, where crowds of worshipers, including women and children, were praying on the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
An AFP reporter witnessed hundreds of Palestinians throwing stones at the police. He said agents locked the doors of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and trapped worshipers for at least an hour.
The clashes came as tensions had risen over Israeli restrictions on access to parts of the Old City during Ramadan and the threat of deportation hanging over four Palestinian families in East Jerusalem to make way for Jewish settlers.
The Islamist movement Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, urged the Palestinians to stay at the Al-Aqsa compound until Thursday morning, when Ramadan ends, warning that “the resistance is ready to destroy Al-Aqsa at all costs. costs to defend “.
Al-Aqsa is located in the compound of Haram al-Sharif, known to the Jews as the Temple Mount, which also includes the Dome of the Rock.
On Saturday, dozens of Arab citizens of Israel protested in Nazareth in solidarity with the Palestinians in Jerusalem, holding signs saying “the occupation is terrorism.”
The High Follow-up Committee for the Arabs in Israel, which represents the country’s 20 percent minority, called for protests in other Arab cities and Jerusalem.
The United States – a staunch Israeli ally whose tone has, however, been sharpened under US President Joe Biden – said it was “extremely concerned” about the events and urged both sides to “avoid measures that exacerbate tensions or move us further. from peace ”. .
“This includes evictions in East Jerusalem, settlements, house demolitions and terrorist attacks,” said the State Department.
The European Union called on the authorities to “act urgently to de-escalate the current tensions”, saying “violence and incitement are unacceptable and perpetrators on all sides must be held accountable”.
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas said he held the Israeli government responsible for the unrest and expressed “full support for our heroes in Al-Aqsa”.
Yair Lapid, an Israeli politician who was trying to form a coalition government to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, sent encouragement to police officers.
“The State of Israel will not let go of violence and will certainly not allow terrorist groups to threaten it,” he tweeted. “Anyone who wants to harm us must know that he will pay a heavy price.”
Al-Aqsa Mosque Director Omar al-Kiswani said in a video posted by Palestinian activists that, immediately after the iftar’s evening meal, “Al-Aqsa Mosque was stormed and unarmed believers were attacked to empty it.”
Hundreds of people slept on the carpets of the mosque on Friday evening. While this is not uncommon during Ramadan, many remained in an act of opposition to the police crackdown.
Jordan condemned Israel’s “barbaric attack”, and Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia, Pakistan and Qatar fired Israeli forces for the confrontation.
Israel has also been criticized from Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, two countries that signed standardization agreements with Israel last year.
Iran called on the United Nations to condemn the actions of the Israeli police, arguing that “this war crime once again proved to the world the criminal nature of the illegitimate Zionist regime.”
The clashes followed a week of heightened violence.
Earlier Friday, Israeli police said agents killed two Palestinians and injured a third after the three men opened fire at the Salem base in the occupied West Bank – the latest of several deadly shootings that week.
Repeated clashes have also broken out in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, sparked by years of attempt by Jewish settlers to take over Palestinian homes.
Israel’s Supreme Court will hold a new hearing in the case on Monday, as Israelis celebrate Jerusalem to celebrate the city’s “liberation”, including a parade of Israeli flags through the Old City.