JERUSALEM — More than 150 people were injured Friday at one of Jerusalem’s holiest sites after clashes erupted between Israeli riot police and Palestinians, adding to weeks of escalating tensions in Israel and in the occupied West Bank and raising fears of new conflagrations in the coming days.
Palestinians threw stones at police, who stormed parts of the mosque compound, fired stun grenades and rubber bullets and arrested more than 400 people. But by noon Friday, the first day of a rare convergence of Ramadan, Passover and Easter, calm had returned to the grounds of the Aqsa Mosque in the Old City, known to Jews as the Temple Mount. – a sacred complex for both religions.
The violence follows a recent wave of Palestinian attacks on Israelis and deadly Israeli raids in the occupied West Bank. Tensions and clashes around the same compound played a central role in the build-up to an 11-day war last May between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.
Over the past month, violence has escalated across Israel and the occupied territories with four Arab attacks that have killed 14 people in Israel. This prompted the Israeli military to step up raids in the occupied West Bank which left at least 15 Palestinians dead. Israel said the raids were aimed at preventing and deterring further attacks, but the Palestinians denounced them as collective punishment.
Friday’s violence also threatened the already shaky Israeli government. A lawmaker from a small Islamist party in the ruling coalition said he might consider resigning if police activity inside the Aqsa Mosque compound does not stop.
The Palestinian authorities have strongly condemned the storming of the compound by the Israeli police.
“The expulsion of worshipers by force, repression and truncheons in view of the incursions of Jewish extremists will ignite the fire of religious war for which the Palestinians alone will not pay the price,” the Palestinian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. a statement.
Yair Lapid, Israel’s foreign minister, said his country is committed to freedom of worship for people of all faiths in Jerusalem.
“Our goal is to enable peaceful prayer for believers during the Ramadan holiday,” he said in a statement. “This morning’s riots on the Temple Mount are unacceptable and run counter to the spirit of the religions we believe in.”
One of Islam’s holiest structures, the mosque sits on a site that is part of Jerusalem’s Old City, important to Christians, Jews and Muslims. The compound is administered by an Islamic trust known as the Waqf, which coordinates with Israeli security forces present at the site.
Both Christians and Jews are allowed to visit the site, and Israeli officials have become increasingly lenient towards Jews praying quietly on the mountain during morning visiting hours Sunday through Thursday. Tensions had been expected for weeks to rise around the confluence of Ramadan, Passover and Easter, the first since 1991.
In recent days, police have arrested several Jewish activists suspected of planning to make the more visible gesture of animal sacrifice. On Friday morning, they arrested a Jewish man carrying a goat near the mosque. The goat was confiscated.
Rumors spread on Palestinian social media that Jewish extremists would violate the Aqsa Mosque this weekend, leading to calls for Palestinians to defend the area.
Friday’s showdown began around 5:30 a.m. and lasted more than three hours. Tens of thousands of Muslim worshipers had gathered at the compound for dawn prayers on the second Friday of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. Both sides said the other started the violence.
Police said the melee in the compound began after Palestinians picked up stones, planks of wood and other large objects before the start of the Muslim dawn prayers and also set off fires. ‘artifice. Officers only entered the compound after the prayer was over and the crowd began throwing rocks towards the Western Wall below, a Jewish holy site where worshipers had also gathered to pray, according to the police.
The police responded by firing rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades at the Palestinian stone throwers.
However, some Palestinian witnesses have given conflicting accounts of how the unrest began. They said Israeli police moved deeper into the compound as the call to prayer sounded, minutes before prayers began, in what the Palestinians saw as a provocation. They said the police fired the first shot.
Police expelled many worshipers, in some cases shoving them and beating them with batons, but some later returned.
Another video showed police inside the mosque, some pointing their guns at Palestinians seated on the ground while another held a stash of white zippers in his hand. Another video showed rows of men lying on their stomachs with their hands tied behind their backs with the zip ties.
A Palestinian prisoners’ rights group said more than 450 people had been arrested by police. They face charges of throwing rocks, firing fireworks, assaulting police officers, violent fortification, violent rioting and disturbing public order, according to police.
A few hours later, the Muslim noon prayer passed without incident.
But the fighting could have serious consequences for the government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Mazen Ghanaim, a member of Raam, an Islamist party which is the smallest member of the ruling coalition, said he may quit the coalition if police activity at the mosque does not stop.
Such a move would reduce the number of lawmakers loyal to the government in Israel’s 120-seat parliament to 59, giving the opposition a slim majority, potentially allowing it to dissolve parliament and hold new elections.
Mr Bennett lost his majority last week after a right-wing lawmaker from his own party defected, saying the government needed to do more to protect Israel’s Jewish identity.
The violence has aggravated several weeks of rising tensions across Israel and the occupied territories, in which more than 30 Israelis, Palestinians and foreigners have died in the deadliest wave of violence outside a full-scale war since several years.
The escalation began on March 22, when a member of Israel’s Arab minority stabbed and rammed four Israelis to death in the south of the country. A few days later, two other Arab citizens of Israel shot and killed two Israeli policemen in Hadera, a town in the north. The three assailants had ties to Islamic State and were later shot and killed.
Other attacks followed and prompted the Israeli army to increase the intensity of its raids in the West Bank. At least 15 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since the crackdown began.
Israeli officials said most of these Palestinians were militants who had been involved in attacks or were planning new ones. But among the victims were an unarmed woman who the IDF says was shot after failing to stop when they fired shots and a human rights lawyer who was caught in the a shooting during an Israeli raid.