At least 31 Palestinians have been injured in clashes after Israeli police raided the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem on Friday, the latest round of violence at the site as tensions rise between Muslims and Jews.
Israeli forces entered the mosque early in the morning – ahead of Friday prayers in the holy month of Ramadan for Muslims – firing rubber bullets and stun grenades after Palestinians reportedly hurled stones at a gate where the authorities were stationed.
According to the Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance service, 14 Palestinians were taken to the hospital, two with serious injuries.
Israeli police entered the compound of the sensitive Al-Aqsa Mosque, firing rubber bullets and stun grenades after Palestinians hurled stones at a gate where force was stationed, in the latest round of skirmishes in tensed east Jerusalem over the past week.
Violence at the compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, has emerged over the past week, raising concerns about a slide back into wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This was the latest round of clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians who have been involved in skirmishes since the last week that escalated as the Jewish festival of Passover coincided with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
It follows a string of fatal attacks in Israel and the deaths of Palestinian civilians during subsequent arrest raids in the West Bank.
Regarding Friday’s violence, Israeli police claimed that hundreds of Palestinians began rioting, hurled rocks and fireworks at officers, who waited for the prayers to end, before taking action. It added that some of the protesters carried flags of the Gaza-ruling Hamas terrorist group.
“Police forces were forced to use riot dispersal means and to push the mob back,” the Israeli police statement said.
The police said clashes intensified and moved towards the Western Wall, where Jewish prayers were being held below.
The Al-Asqa mosque is a complex in Jerusalem’s Old City which has become the site is a frequent flashpoint for violence between Jews and Muslims. It is the third holiest site in Islam, but its location is also the holiest site in Judaism, known as the Temple Mount.
Israeli police said a policewoman was injured after she was hit in the face by a rock and was taken for treatment.
A small fire also broke out on a tree atop the compound. While Palestinians blamed Israeli police for setting a tree light, the police said that the blaze was caused by Palestinians throwing fireworks.
The clashes came despite Jewish visitors have been banned from accessing the site until the end of Ramadan on 2 May, as part of a years-long policy of barring non-Muslims from the site during the final 10 days of the Muslim holy month.
On Thursday, Israel said it launched its “most significant” airstrikes on Gaza since last year’s war, and hit a Hamas security post and an underground site reportedly used by the Islamist group to manufacture rocket parts.
The latest string of events has raised fears of a repeat of last year’s devastating 11-day war between Israel and Hamas when it fired rockets toward Jerusalem following clashes at the mosque compound.
Since the start of last month, Israeli forces have killed almost 30 Palestinians in raids on the West Bank, while 14 people have been killed in Israel in a series of deadly street attacks.