Updated April 17, 2022 9:18 a.m. ET
JERUSALEM — Israeli police entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on Sunday to secure the path for Jewish visitors to the holy powder keg site, fueling clashes that left 17 Palestinians injured, according to Palestinian medical workers.
The unrest came just two days after clashes with Palestinians at the same site. Violence in Jerusalem between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters a year ago has escalated into an 11-day war in Gaza.
The hilltop complex housing the mosque is the third holiest site in Islam, while it is the holiest place to Jews, who call it the Temple Mount. Competing claims on the site have sparked numerous waves of violence.
This year, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the Christian holy week culminating on Easter Sunday and the week-long Jewish Passover are all taking place at the same time, with tens of thousands of visitors flocking to the city after restrictions were lifted. on coronaviruses.
Israeli police have accused Palestinians of “defiling and defiling” a holy site, while Palestinian officials have accused Israel of trying to divide the sensitive holy site. “What happened at Al-Aqsa Mosque is a dangerous escalation, the repercussions of which must be borne by the Israeli government alone,” said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Police said they entered the compound to facilitate routine Jewish visitation to the holy site. They said the Palestinians had stockpiled stones and erected barriers in anticipation of violence. Police said they are committed to ensuring freedom of worship for Jews and Muslims.
Police evacuated Palestinians from the sprawling plaza outside the mosque itself early on Sunday, while dozens of Palestinians remained inside the building chanting “God is the greatest”. A video released by the police showed small groups of young people throwing stones, as well as fireworks being fired from inside the mosque.
Palestinians reported brief clashes with Israeli police just outside the mosque compound, while police said Palestinians threw stones at buses outside the Old City. Paramedics said five people traveling on buses were treated for minor injuries in the attacks.
Police released video showing a mob of youths pelting a passing bus with rocks just outside the Old Town. Another police video, taken inside one of the buses, showed Jewish families sitting on the floor of the vehicle as it continued on its way.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Medical Service said 17 Palestinians were injured, including five hospitalized. Israeli police reported nine arrests. By noon, witnesses said the police had left the compound.
Jordan, which is the guardian of the holy site, issued a statement condemning Israel’s actions, saying they undermine “all efforts to maintain general calm and prevent the escalation of violence that threatens security and the peace”.
Under long-standing agreements, Jews are allowed to visit the Temple Mount but are prohibited from praying there. For decades, Jews avoided worshiping there for religious reasons.
Israeli authorities say they are determined to maintain the status quo, but in recent years large groups of nationalist and religious Jews have regularly visited the site with police escorts, which Palestinians see as a provocation. The number of visitors often increases during religious holidays. Palestinian officials said nearly 550 Jewish visitors entered the compound, compared to just a few dozen on most days.
Such practices have fueled Palestinian concerns about Israel’s plot to take over or divide the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Israel strongly denies these claims, saying it is committed to protecting freedom of worship for all.
Clashes erupted at the site before dawn on Friday after police said Palestinians threw stones at the Western Wall, an adjacent Jewish holy site. Police stormed in and clashed with dozens of Palestinians shortly after dawn prayers.
Israel captured East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City, as well as the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 war. The Palestinians want a future state in all three territories. Israel annexed East Jerusalem in an internationally unrecognized move and is building and expanding settlements in the occupied West Bank. Hamas controls Gaza, which has been under Israeli and Egyptian blockade since the Islamic militant group took power in 2007.
A radical Jewish group recently called on people to bring animals to the site to sacrifice for Passover, offering cash rewards to those who succeeded or even tried. Israeli police are working to prevent such activities, but the call has been widely publicized by Palestinians on social media, along with calls for Muslims to prevent any sacrifices.
Israeli police have accused the Palestinians of spreading disinformation on social media, which has heightened tensions.
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