Clashes Erupt Again Near Flashpoint Jerusalem Holy Site

JERUSALEM — Israeli police on Sunday entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City to secure the way for Jewish visitors to the flashpoint holy site, fueling clashes that left 17 Palestinians wounded, according to Palestinian medical workers.

Two days earlier, clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian demonstrators at the same spot sparked unrest. A year ago, violence in Jerusalem between Israeli security force and Palestinian demonstrators escalated to an eleven-day Gaza conflict.

While the compound on the hill top housing the mosque is Islam’s third holiest site, it is sacred to Jews who call it the Temple Mount. There have been many acts of violence in response to competing claims for the location.

After coronavirus restrictions were mostly lifted, this year’s Muslim holy month Ramadan and Christian holy week that culminates in Easter Sunday are both occurring simultaneously. Tens of thousands of people flock to the city each year.

Israeli police accused Palestinians of “defiling and desecrating” a holy site, while Palestinian officials accused Israel of trying to divide the sensitive holy site. “What happened in Al-Aqsa Mosque is a dangerous escalation, the repercussions of which are to be borne by the Israeli government alone,” said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

According to police, they were there to assist the regular visit of Jews to holy sites. Police claimed that Palestinians had built barriers and stockpiled stones in preparation for violence.

Omer Barlev, the Israeli minister in charge of the police, said it was important to ensure freedom of worship “but we will not compromise when violence and terror take place.”

The police cleared Palestinians out of the sprawling esplanade outside the mosque itself early Sunday, while dozens of Palestinians remained inside the building chanting “God is Greatest.” Video released by police showed small groups of youths throwing stones, as well as fireworks being fired from inside the mosque.

A few minutes after the incident, Palestinians complained of brief clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians. Meanwhile, police reported that Palestinians had attacked buses in the Old City. According to paramedics, five passengers in busses sustained minor injuries during the attack.

A video was released by police showing youths throwing stones at a bus just outside of the Old City. A second video taken by the police inside the bus showed Jewish families lying on the ground as the bus continued its journey.

Following a joint assessment of the situation with defense experts, Naftali Bennet, Israeli Prime Minister, ordered increased security to public buses heading to the Old City.

“We are working to calm things down on the one hand and are taking vigorous action against violent individuals on the other,” he said.

According to the Palestinian Red Crescent medical services, 17 Palestinians sustained injuries and five were admitted to hospital. Israeli police reported nine arrests. Witnesses reported that nine arrests had been made by Israeli police.

Jordan, which serves as custodian of the holy site, issued a statement condemning Israel’s actions, saying they undermine “all efforts made to maintain the comprehensive calm and prevent the escalation of violence that threatens security and peace.”

According to long-standing arrangements, Jews can visit the Temple Mount. However, they cannot pray there. Jews were forbidden from worshipping the Temple Mount in religious ceremonies for decades.

Although Israeli authorities claim they want to maintain the status quo in Israel, large numbers of religious and nationalist Jews have visited the site over recent years with police escorts. This is something that the Palestinians consider a provocative act. Religious holidays are a time when the number of people visiting the site rises. According to Palestinian officials, the number of Jewish visitors in the compound was nearly 550, while it is only about a dozen most days.

This has fueled fears in Palestine that Israel might attempt to seize control of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, or even partition it. Israel denies these claims and says it is dedicated to protecting the freedom of worship.

Police claimed that Palestinians had attacked the Western Wall and other holy sites, prompting clashes at the scene. Shortly after sunrise prayers, police arrived and clashed violently with several Palestinians.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967, including the Old City. Palestinians are seeking a new state in each of these territories. Israel annexed eastern Jerusalem in an international move and continues to expand settlements on the West Bank. Gaza is under Israeli and Egyptian control. It has been under Israeli and Egyptian blocksade since 2007.

One radical Jewish group called for people to bring animals along to the site, in order to offer cash rewards for those who succeed or tried. Although Israeli police have been working hard to curb such actions, it was shared widely by Palestinians via social media.

Israeli police charged Palestinians with spreading misinformation via social media. This escalated tensions.

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