New protests called after Jerusalem clashes wound over 200
Israel braced for more protests Saturday after clashes at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound wounded more than 200 people and as the international community urged calm after days of escalating violence.
In the unrest following Muslim weekly prayers Friday, Israeli riot police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades at Palestinians who hurled rocks, bottles and fireworks.
The violence was the worst in years to rock Al-Aqsa, Islam’s third-holiest site after Mecca and Medina, located on the site Jews revere as the Temple Mount.
Israeli police said 18 officers were wounded, while the Palestinian Red Crescent reported that 205 Palestinians were injured in the violence that also saw skirmishes elsewhere in annexed east Jerusalem.
Video footage showed Israeli forces storming the mosque’s sprawling plaza and firing sound grenades inside the building, where throngs of worshippers were praying on the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Mosque director Omar al-Kiswani said in a video message that, directly after the evening iftar meal that breaks the dawn-to-dusk Ramadan fast, “Al-Aqsa mosque was stormed and unarmed worshippers were attacked to empty it”.
An AFP reporter witnessed hundreds of Palestinians hurling stones at police.
He said officers locked the doors of the mosque, trapping worshippers for at least an hour.
The clashes came as tensions have soared over the threat to evict four Palestinian families to make way for Jewish settlers in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood close to the walled Old City’s Damascus Gate.
The Islamist movement Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, urged Palestinians to remain at the Al-Aqsa compound until Thursday, when Ramadan ends, warning that “the resistance is ready to defend Al-Aqsa at any cost”.
On Saturday, Palestinian supporters of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another militant group, launched incendiary balloons from Gaza into southern Israel.
Inside Israel, dozens of Arab citizens protested in Nazareth in solidarity with Jerusalem Palestinians, holding signs that read “the occupation is terrorism”.
– ‘Heavy price’ –
The United States — a staunch Israeli ally whose tone has however toughened under US President Joe Biden — said it was “extremely concerned” and urged both sides to “avoid steps that exacerbate tensions or take us farther away from peace”.
“This includes evictions in east Jerusalem, settlement activity, home demolitions and acts of terrorism,” the State Department said.
The European Union called on the authorities “to act urgently to de-escalate the current tensions,” saying “violence and incitement are unacceptable and the perpetrators on all sides must be held accountable”.
Russia voiced “deep concern” and called the expropriation of land and property in the occupied Palestinian territories including east Jerusalem “a violation of international law”.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said he held the Israeli government responsible for the unrest and voiced “full support for our heroes in Al-Aqsa”.
Yair Lapid, an Israeli politician attempting to form a coalition government to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, sent encouragement to police officers.
“The state of Israel will not let violence run loose and definitely will not allow terror groups to threaten it,” he tweeted. “Whoever wants to harm us must know that he will pay a heavy price.”
– ‘Barbaric attack’ –
Jordan condemned Israel’s “barbaric attack” and Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia, Pakistan and Qatar were among Muslim countries that blasted Israeli forces for the confrontation.
Israel also drew criticism from Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, two countries that signed normalisation accords with the Jewish state last year.
Iran called on the United Nations to condemn the Israeli police actions, arguing that “this war crime once again proved to the world the criminal nature of the illegitimate Zionist regime”.
The clashes followed a week of intensifying violence.
Earlier Friday, Israeli police said officers killed two Palestinians and wounded a third after the three men opened fire on the Salem base in the occupied West Bank — the latest of several deadly shootings that week.
Clashes have also repeatedly broken out in Sheikh Jarrah, fuelled by the years-long attempt by Jewish settlers to take over Palestinian homes.
Israel’s Supreme Court is to hold a new hearing in the case on Monday, when Israelis mark Jerusalem Day to celebrate the “liberation” of the city, including with a parade of Israeli flags through the Old City.