JERUSALEM (AP) – Israeli police on Sunday stormed the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the old city of Jerusalem to prevent Jewish visitors from accessing the Flash Point site, which left 17 Palestinians wounded, Palestinian medical staff said.
Two days after the conflict with the Palestinians at the same site, unrest broke out. Violence between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem a year ago escalated into the 11-day Gaza war.
The hilltop complex with the mosque is the third holiest site in Islam, while it is the holiest site for Jews, which they refer to as Temple Mount. Competing claims on the site have provoked several rounds of violence.
This year the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the Christian holy week ends on Easter Sunday and a week-long Jewish Passover takes place all at once, with tens of thousands of visitors coming to the city after the corona virus restrictions are often lifted.
Israeli police have accused Palestinians of “desecrating and desecrating” a holy site, while Palestinian officials have accused Israel of trying to separate an important holy site. “What happened at al-Aqsa Mosque is a dangerous extension, and the consequences must be borne only by the Israeli government,” said Nabil Abu Rodney, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Police said they entered the premises to facilitate the regular arrival of Jews to the shrine. They said the Palestinians had piled up stones and set up barricades in anticipation of the violence.
Amateur videos circulating on social media appeared to show police officers using batons to subdue detained Palestinians and evacuating people from Esplanade. In one video, an officer shook an unarmed man near a child.
Omar Parlev, the minister in charge of the Israeli police, said it was important to ensure freedom of worship “but we will not compromise when violence and terrorism occur.”
Police evacuated a large number of Palestinians outside the mosque early Sunday morning, while dozens of Palestinians chanted “God is great” inside the building. A video released by police shows small groups of youths throwing stones and exploding firecrackers from inside the mosque.
Palestinians reported brief clashes with Israeli police outside the mosque compound, while police said Palestinians threw stones at buses outside the old city. Five people traveling in the bus were treated for minor injuries, paramedics said.
Police have released a video of a group of youths throwing stones at a passing bus outside Old City. Another video of police taken inside one of the buses showed Jewish families sitting on the ground in the driveway.
Israeli Prime Minister Naphtali Bennett, along with top security officials, assessed the situation and ordered additional security for public buses heading to the old city.
“We are working to calm things down on the one hand and take serious action against violent individuals on the other,” he said.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Medical Service said 17 Palestinians were injured, five of whom were hospitalized. Israeli police announced nine arrests. In the afternoon, witnesses said police left the premises.
Jordan, who serves as the guardian of the sanctuary, issued a statement condemning Israel’s actions, saying they “undermine all efforts to maintain comprehensive peace and prevent the escalation of violence that threatens security and peace.”
Under long-term understanding, Jews are allowed to go to the Temple Mount, but it is forbidden to pray there. For decades, Jews avoided worshiping there for religious reasons.
Israeli officials say they are determined to maintain the status quo, but in recent years large groups of nationalist and religious Jews have continued to visit the site. With police support, the Palestinians see it as a provocation. The number of visitors often rises during religious holidays. Palestinian officials said about 550 Jewish visitors entered the compound, most of them a few dozen on most days.
Such practices have raised concerns among Palestinians that Israel is planning to seize or secede the al-Aqsa mosque complex. Israel vehemently denies such claims, and is committed to defending freedom of worship for all.
Clashes erupted in the area early Friday morning after police said Palestinians had hurled stones at the western wall of a nearby Jewish shrine. After the dawn of the prayer, the police entered the force and collided with dozens of Palestinians.
In the 1967 war, Israel captured East Jerusalem, which included the West Bank and the old city along with Gaza. Palestinians want a future government in all three territories. Israel has incorporated East Jerusalem into an internationally unrecognized activity and is building and expanding settlements on the occupied West Bank. Hamas has been controlling Gaza under Israeli and Egyptian siege since an Islamic militant group seized power there in 2007.
An extremist Jewish group recently invited people to come to the site to sacrifice animals for Passover, offering cash rewards to those who won or tried. The Israeli police are working to prevent such acts, but the call was widely circulated on social media by Palestinians, with calls for Muslims to prevent any sacrifice.
Israeli police have accused Palestinians of spreading false information on social media and escalating tensions.