Clashes Erupt at Mosque in Jerusalem, 152 Palestinians Hurt

JERUSALEM — Palestinians clashed with Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem before dawn on Friday as thousands gathered for prayers during the holy month of Ramadan. According to medical officials, there were at least 152 Palestinians who sustained injuries.

This holy place, sacred to Jews as well as Muslims, is often the center of Israeli-Palestinian tensions. Tensions have already been escalating since a recent spate of violence. The site was the scene of a violent clash last year that led to an 11-day war between Hamas and militants in Gaza Strip.

This is a sensitive time for the clashes. Ramadan coincides this year with Passover. This is a weeklong Jewish holiday that begins Friday at sundown and ends on Sunday. The holidays are expected to bring tens of thousands of faithful into Jerusalem’s Old City, home to major sites sacred to all three religions.

Hours after the clashes began, the police said they had put an end to the violence and arrested “hundreds” of suspects. They said the mosque was re-opened and that Friday’s midday prayers would take place as usual. Tens to thousands of people were anticipated.

Israeli officials claimed that they previously held talks with Muslim leaders in order to maintain calm and permit prayers to be conducted. However, Palestinian youths attacked the Mughrabi Gate which leads to Jerusalem’s Western Wall. This provoked the violence.

Witnesses from Palestinians spoke out on condition that they remain anonymous due to security concerns. They said that a group of Palestinians attacked police officers, and then entered the compound with force. This set off an even larger conflagration.

Continue reading: What Can the World Do To End the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Online videos showed Palestinians throwing stones and fireworks at police and officers firing stun and gas on the sprawling area surrounding the mosque. Some videos showed worshippers barricading their way inside the mosque.

The mosque was entered by Israeli police later in the day. It is rare for Israeli security personnel to enter this building. This, however, is considered a major step in the Palestinian escalation.

Palestinian Red Crescent’s emergency services reported that it had treated 152 patients, most of whom were injured by stun or rubber bullets. Some others were also beaten with batons. According to the endowment, one guard at the site had been shot in the eye using a rubber bullet.

The Israeli police said three officers were wounded from “massive stone-throwing,” with two evacuated from the scene for treatment.

According to Israel’s Foreign Ministry, dozens of men wearing Palestinian and Hamas flags marched up the compound on Friday morning and collected stones and other items in preparation for unrest.

“Police were forced to enter the grounds to disperse the crowd and remove the stones and rocks, in order to prevent further violence,” it tweeted.

Palestinians consider any major deployment of police officers at Al-Aqsa a provocation.

Israel’s national security minister, Omer Barlev, who oversees the police force, said Israel had “no interest” in violence at the holy site but that police were forced to confront “violent elements” that attacked them with stones and metal bars. Omer Barlev stated that Israel is committed to free worship for Jews as well as Muslims.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, speaking at a holiday gathering with security officials, said authorities “are working to calm things on the Temple Mount and throughout Israel. At the same time, we are prepared for any scenario.”

This mosque is Islam’s third holiest. It is built on a hilltop in Jerusalem’s Old City that is the most sacred site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it was the site of the Jewish temples in antiquity. For decades, it has been the focal point of Israeli-Palestinian violent conflict and the site of the intifada (or uprising) 2000-2005.

Israel annexed east Jerusalem in 1967. It captured the holy city of Al-Aqsa, as well other important religious sites. Palestinians desire the capital of an independent future state to include the West Bank and Gaza. These were also taken by Israel during that war almost 55 years ago.

Recent attacks on Israel by Palestinians, which resulted in 14 deaths and tensile tensions within Israel have caused tensions to rise. Israel launched a series of military operations and arrests in the West Bank. This has triggered clashes between Palestinians.

A 17-year old Palestinian health minister died Friday after sustaining injuries during clashes between Israeli and Palestinian forces the previous day in Jenin, West Bank.

An Associated Press count shows that at least 25 Palestinians were killed in the latest wave of violence. Some of these victims had attacked or been part of the clashes. However, there also appears to be an unarmed woman, and a lawyer, who appear to have been mistakenly killed.

After weeks of demonstrations and clashes at Jerusalem’s Ramadan celebrations last year, an eleven-day conflict broke out with Hamas (the Islamic militant group which rules Gaza Strip).

Continue reading: U.S. Military Support for Israel Must be Conditional

Israel had taken steps to ease tensions and lifted some restrictions, but attacks and military raids brought another round of turmoil.

Hamas condemned what it said were “brutal attacks” on worshippers at Al-Aqsa, saying Israel would bear “all the consequences.”

Hamas and militants in Gaza called Palestinians earlier this week to gather at Al-Aqsa mosque. The site could be taken over by Israel, as Palestinians fear.

Israeli authorities claim they want to preserve the status quo. However, in recent years religious and nationalist Jews have been visiting the site regularly with police escorts.

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. While Israeli police are working to stop such acts, the Palestinians shared this call on social media. They also called for Muslims to block any animal sacrifices.

Rabbi Shmuel Rebinowitz was the Western Wall’s rabbi. He issued a statement asking Muslim leaders for their help to end violence. It also noted that “bringing a sacrifice to the Temple Mount today is in opposition to the decision of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.”

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