At least 31 Palestinians were wounded Friday morning in a five-hour clash with Israeli police at Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent, as violence spikes at the Jerusalem site sacred to both Muslims and Jews.
The violent skirmishes at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, revered in Judaism as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, have surged over the past week, raising concerns about a slide back into wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Fourteen Palestinians were taken to the hospital, with two in serious condition, the Red Crescent said. An Israeli police officer was hit in the face by a rock and required medical attention.
Police said they initially operated near the entrance to the Mount and avoided entering the compound following the violence that erupted on the first Friday of Ramadan on April 1. Officers who spoke with Haaretz said the decision was a deliberate attempt by the police force to avoid clashes with worshipers.
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However, clashes erupted around 4 A.M, police said, when hundreds of Palestinian worshipers began hurling rocks, firing fireworks, and flying Hamas flags at the compound. Police waited until morning prayers ended before engaging with the rioters and using crowd control measures outside the mosque.
During the clashes, a tree caught fire outside the mosque and tensions escalated as parties blamed each other for the blaze, according to police. Once the riots subsided, the police left the compound.
Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai paid a visit to the area a few hours after the riots began and ordered the Border Police reserve forces to be on immediate alert for deployment. The police expressed concern during a situational assessment that the clashes would continue throughout the afternoon, and may spread to other cities in Israel, including Umm al-Fahm, Nazareth, and the Wadi Ara area region.
The holy month of Ramadan ends in ten days, until which entry to the compound is forbidden to non-Muslim worshipers and visitors as per the status-quo agreement with Israel.
Thursday night, a general closure was imposed on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip until Saturday – the final day of the Jewish holiday of Passover – though access to Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is still open to those in the West Bank.
The police issued a statement saying that "while many officers are working to allow freedom of worship, and to maintain the peace in holy places and all over Jerusalem, there are those who choose to disrupt public order."
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid shared a video on his Twitter account rioters confronting worshipers at the Temple Mount compound. "This is what truly happened on the Temple Mount this morning: a small group of Islamic extremists tried to take over Al-Aqsa Mosque. They want to forcibly remove the moderates who simply want to observe Ramadan and pray in peace." Lapid tweeted,
On Thursday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with an envoy of American officials. According to Wafa News Agency, Abbas demanded immediate intervention of the American administration in what he described as a serious escalation in Jerusalem. Abbas reiterated the need to stop one-sided actions by Israel in the West Bank and the importance of creating a political horizon, otherwise, Abbas said, the Palestinian Authority would not be committed to its agreements with Israel.