Around 50,000 Muslims, half from the West Bank, arrived at the Al-Aqsa Mosque for noon prayers Friday, after a six-hour clash at the site between Palestinians and Israeli police, the worst skirmishes in Jerusalem since the month of Ramadan began on April 1.
At least 152 Palestinians were injured by rubber bullets and tear gas, eight of whom are in intensive care, according to the Red Crescent. The police reported that three officers were lightly injured.
Israel Police said they entered the compound after masked men, carrying Hamas and Palestinian Authority flags, threw stones and set off fireworks after prayer at 4 A.M. They noted that forces entered the compound only after prayer ended and that Palestinians continued throwing rocks and setting fireworks after police arrived.
In a rare move, Israeli officers entered Al-Aqsa Mosque itself after Palestinians threw stones at police forces from the entrance and barricaded themselves inside. Once inside, they blindfolded and handcuffed some of the detainees.
The police said they carried out an unusually high number of 470 arrests before reopening the compound for noon prayers on the second Friday of Ramadan. According to a senior official, the decision to enter the mosque to make the arrests was made in part to enable prayers to occur at noon.
The vast majority of the detainees were released on parole, with some forbidden from entering the Al-Aqsa compound until the end of Ramadan. On Saturday evening, around 30 detainees who remained in custody will face a hearing at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on extending their detention.
Thousands of Palestinian youths stayed at Al-Aqsa Mosque overnight amid calls by religious Jewish groups to enter the compound on Friday to perform a Passover sacrifice, in violation of the so-called status quo agreements on religious practice at the site. The police believe that many of them hold Israeli citizenship, and arrived from northern Israel. A senior security official said that approximately 40 buses, likely organized by the Islamic movement's northern branch, brought them to the site.
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In light of the morning's events, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held an emergency security meeting on the situation in Jerusalem. At the meeting, police chief Kobi Shabtai said that officers at the scene did everything in their power to avoid entering the mosque. "We asked the Waqf guards to take care of the rioters and remove them from the mount, but unfortunately that didn't work," he said.
"Despite that, we allowed the morning prayers to go on, but even after that officers were attacked with rocks, stones and fireworks fired directly at them. This forced us to enter in order to disperse the rioters," he continued.
Following the events, Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev stressed that Israel has "no interest in the Temple Mount becoming an epicenter of violence that will hurt both Muslim worshipers there and Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall."
"We have said time and again that we will do the maximum to allow freedom of worship at the Temple Mount and that reality hasn't changed. The officers there are acting bravely in these complex circumstances, as they deal with violent people who gathered rocks and iron rods in order to hurt the freedom of worship on the mount and at the Western Wall," he added.
Threats from militants, threats from coalition
Several groups across Israel and the Palestinian territories swiftly condemned the entry of security forces into the mosque.
In a statement, Hamas said: "We condemn the barbaric aggression of the occupation soldiers against the worshipers in Al-Aqsa. Our brothers in Jerusalem are not alone in the fight for Al-Aqsa. We call on the masses in the West Bank and within the Green Line to stand by our brother in Jerusalem." The Islamic Jihad echoed the sentiment, warning that unless Israel "lifted its aggressive hand from Al-Aqsa Mosque, confrontation will be sooner and stronger."
The United Arab List, the Islamic party in the coalition government, condemned the entrance of police into the compound. "I've passed on the message to the political leadership and the police: The continued damage to Al-Aqsa Mosque is a red line for us, also regarding the stability of the coalition," UAL chairman Mansour Abbas said on the radio. "There are no political considerations when it comes to Al-Aqsa."
Another UAL lawmaker, Mazen Ghanayim, sent Prime Minister Naftali Bennett a letter threatening to leave the coalition unless security forces stopped operating in the Al-Aqsa mosque. "A government which behaves in this way has no right to exist," Ghanayim said, and called on Bennett to calm the situation.
The Palestinian Presidency's Office dubbed the actions of Israel Police as "a serious escalation and a declaration of war" and called on international intervention, while the official statement from the Palestinian Foreign Ministry took the events as proof that "Bennett's government is lying about its intention to maintain the status quo at Al-Aqsa Mosque, and that the Israeli government strives to split the mosque and Judaize the city."
The Jordanian Foreign Ministry, too, said that Israel "held full responsibility" for the incident, and called on Israeli security presence to withdraw from the mosque.
Earlier this week, Palestinian organizations slammed calls by right-wing activists urging Jews to come to the Temple Mount on Friday with a kid goat in order to perform the Passover sacrifice. On Friday, Israel Police detained two Jews who were on their way to ritually slaughter a kid goat. A further man was detained at his home in Jerusalem on Thursday, while others who had published the calls were also detained. Meanwhile, the Waqf, the Muslim religious trust responsible for the compound, stopped two people they suspected of being Jews in disguise but turned out to be Muslim.
Since Thursday, 11 Jews have been arrested on suspicion of planning to sacrifice a goat on the Temple Mount. Three goats have been confiscated.
The IDF announced Thursday that a curfew will be imposed on Palestinians in the West Bank during the Passover holiday starting Friday at 4:00 P.M. until Sunday.
Palestinians are permitted to attend Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa compound but will have to return to the West Bank by the time the closure begins. The possibility of extending the lockdown throughout the week is still being discussed.
Yaniv Kubovich, Hagar Shezaf and Michael Hauser-Tov contributed to this article.