Jerusalem (AFP), April 15 – More than 150 people were injured Friday in clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, the first confrontation in the area since the start of Ramadan.
Israeli police said ‘dozens of masked men’ entered Al-Aqsa setting off fireworks before the crowd hurled rocks at the Western Wall – considered the holiest site where Jews can pray.
Witnesses said Palestinians threw stones at Israeli forces, who fired rubber bullets and stun grenades.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said 153 people were hospitalized and “dozens more injured” were treated at the scene. Israeli police said at least three officers were injured.
About 400 people were arrested, said the Palestinian Prisoners Club, a group that supports detainees.
The clashes come after three tense weeks of deadly violence in Israel and the occupied West Bank, and as the Jewish holiday of Passover and Christian Easter overlap with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Al-Aqsa is the third holiest site in Islam. Jews call it the Temple Mount, referring to two temples said to have stood there in ancient times.
Last year, during the month of Muslim fasting, clashes that erupted in Jerusalem, including between Israeli forces and Palestinians visiting Al-Aqsa, led to 11 days of devastating conflict between Israel and Islamist leaders in Gaza, Hamas.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Friday’s “riots” were “unacceptable”.
“The convergence of Passover, Ramadan and Easter is symbolic of what we have in common. We must not let anyone turn these holy days into a platform for hatred, incitement and violence,” he said.
UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland urged “authorities on both sides to immediately de-escalate the situation and prevent any further provocations by radical actors”.
– ‘Red line’ –
Police said the crowd threw stones “in the direction of the Western Wall…and as the violence increased, police were forced into the grounds surrounding the mosque”, adding that the officers “did not enter the mosque “.
But the director of the Al-Aqsa mosque, Omar al-Kiswani, told AFP that an “aggression was committed inside the Al-Aqsa mosque”.
“More than 80 young people inside the holy mosque have been moved,” he said, adding, “Al-Aqsa Mosque is a red line.”
Ahead of Ramadan, Israel and Jordan intensified talks to avoid a repeat of last year’s violence.
Jordan serves as the guardian of the mosque compound, while Israel controls access.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said there was “no place for invaders and occupiers in our holy Jerusalem”.
Analysts say the group wants to keep the conflict in the West Bank and Jerusalem going but avoid escalating in the Gaza Strip after last year’s war, and with thousands of Israeli work permits from Gaza at risk.
“Hamas does not want a new confrontation,” said Mukhaimer Abu Saada, professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza.
An Israeli security source said the Islamic Jihad militant group – which controls neither the West Bank nor Gaza – would be more inclined to escalate with Israel.
Islamic Jihad warned on Friday that “the confrontation will be closer and harder” for the Israeli forces if “they do not stop the aggression against our people”.
– Spiral of violence –
Israel has deployed additional forces to the West Bank and is strengthening its wall and fence with the West Bank after four deadly attacks in the Jewish state that have mostly killed civilians in the past three weeks.
A total of 14 people have been killed in the attacks since March 22, including a shooting in Bnei Brak, an Orthodox Jewish town in greater Tel Aviv.
Twenty-two Palestinians were killed during this period, including assailants who targeted Israelis, according to an AFP tally.
On Thursday, Israel announced it would block crossings from the West Bank and Gaza into Israel from Friday afternoon through Saturday, the first two nights of the weeklong Passover festival, and potentially keep the crossings closed. for the rest of the vacation.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who lost his parliamentary majority last week, gave Israeli forces carte blanche to “defeat terrorism” in the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since the 1967 Six-Day War.
Some of the attacks in Israel were carried out by Arab citizens of Israel linked or inspired by the Islamic State group, others by Palestinians and acclaimed by militant groups including Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Three Palestinians died on Thursday as Israeli forces launched new raids in the burning West Bank neighborhood of Jenin, a week after the Bnei Brak attack. A fourth succumbed to his injuries on Friday.