Clashes at Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem
Palestinians clashed with Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem on Friday as thousands gathered for prayers during the holy month of Ramadan. Medics said more than 150 Palestinians were wounded in the most serious violence at the site in nearly a year.
The holy site, which is sacred to Jews and Muslims, has often been the epicenter of Israeli-Palestinian unrest, and tensions were already heightened amid a recent wave of violence. Clashes at the site last year helped spark an 11-day war with Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.
The clashes come at a particularly sensitive time. Ramadan this year coincides with Passover, a major weeklong Jewish holiday beginning Friday at sundown, and Christian holy week, which culminates on Easter 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.
The mosque was re-opened, and some 60,000 people attended the main Friday prayers midday, according to the Islamic endowment that administers the site.
After prayers, thousands of Palestinians marched around the esplanade, chanting “with our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice for you, Al-Aqsa,” in addition to slogans in support of Hamas.
Palestinian witnesses, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of security concerns, said a small group of Palestinians threw rocks at police, who then entered the compound in force, setting off a wider conflagration. Palestinians view any large deployment of police at Al-Aqsa as a provocation.
Palestinians threw rocks and fireworks, and police fired tear gas and stun grenades on the sprawling esplanade surrounding the mosque. A large group of Palestinians barricaded themselves inside the mosque as they fought Israeli security forces. Israeli police later entered the mosque and arrested people inside.
The Palestinian Red Crescent emergency service said it treated 152 people, many of them wounded by rubber-coated bullets or stun grenades, or beaten with batons. The endowment said one of the guards at the site was shot in the eye with a rubber bullet.
The Israeli police said three officers were wounded from “massive stone-throwing,” with two evacuated from the scene for treatment.