Israeli police in full riot gear stormed a sensitive Jerusalem holy site sacred to Jews and Muslims after Palestinian youths threw rocks at a gate where they were stationed.
The renewed violence at the site came despite Israel’s temporary halt to Jewish visits, which had been seen by Palestinians as a provocation. Doctors said more than two dozen Palestinians were injured.
Palestinians and Israeli police have clashed regularly at the site over the past week at a time of heightened tensions following a series of deadly attacks inside Israel and raids in the occupied West Bank. Three rockets were also fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel.
The series of events raised fears of a repeat of last year, when protests and violence in Jerusalem finally boiled over, helping to spark an 11-day war in Gaza and communal violence in Israel’s mixed towns.
Tens of thousands of Muslim worshipers are expected at the site later today for the main weekly prayers as they observe the holy month of Ramadan.
Palestinian youths threw stones at police at a gate leading to the compound, according to two Palestinian witnesses. Police, in full riot gear, then entered the compound, firing rubber bullets and stun grenades.
Israeli police said the Palestinians had started stockpiling stones and erecting rudimentary fortifications before dawn.
Police said that after the stone-throwing began, they waited until after morning prayers before entering the compound.
Some older Palestinians urged the youths to stop throwing rocks but were ignored as dozens of masked young men threw rocks and fireworks at the police. A tree caught fire near the gate where the clashes began, possibly ignited by the fireworks or stun grenades.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society medical service said at least 27 Palestinians were injured, two of them seriously.
Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem is the third holiest site in Islam. The sprawling esplanade on which it is built is the holiest site to Jews, who call it the Temple Mount because it was the location of two Jewish temples in ancient times.
It lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the clashes there that have often sparked violence elsewhere.
The Palestinians and neighboring Jordan, the site’s custodian, accuse Israel of violating long-standing agreements by allowing increasing numbers of Jews to visit the site under police escort.
A longstanding ban on Jews praying at the site has eroded in recent years, fueling Palestinian fears that Israel is considering taking over or dividing the site.
Israel says it remains committed to the status quo and attributes the violence to incitement by the Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza.
He says his security forces are working to eliminate stone throwers to ensure freedom of worship for Jews and Muslims.
Visits by Jewish groups were halted from Friday for the last 10 days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, as they have been in the past.
This year, Ramadan coincided with Passover and major Christian holidays, with tens of thousands of people from all three faiths flocking to the Old City after most coronavirus restrictions were lifted.
The Old City is in East Jerusalem, which Israel captured along with the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Middle East War.
Israel annexed East Jerusalem in an internationally unrecognized move and considers the entire city its capital.
The Palestinians seek an independent state in the three territories and regard East Jerusalem as their capital.