JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli police firing tear gas, stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets clashed with Palestinian stone-throwers at a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site yesterday, the latest in a series of confrontations that is pushing the contested city to the brink of eruption.
Over a dozen tear gas canisters and stun grenades landed in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, said an Associated Press (AP) photographer at the scene.
At least 215 Palestinians were hurt in the violence at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, including 153 who were hospitalised, Palestinian medics said. Four of the injured were in serious condition. Police said nine officers were hurt, including one who was hospitalised.
Yesterday’s confrontation was the latest in the sacred compound after days of mounting tensions between Palestinians and Israeli troops in the Old City of Jerusalem, the emotional ground zero of the conflict. Hundreds of Palestinians and about two dozen police officers have been hurt over the past few days.
The compound has been the trigger for rounds of Israel-Palestinian violence in the past.
An AP photographer witnessing the clashes said that in the early morning hours, protesters had barricaded gates to the walled compound with wooden boards and scrap metal. Sometime after 7am, clashes erupted, with those inside the compound throwing stones at police deployed outside. Police entered the compound, firing tear gas and stun grenades.
At some point, about 400 people, both young protesters and older worshippers, were inside the carpeted Al-Aqsa Mosque. Police fired tear gas and stun grenades into the mosque.
Police said protesters hurled stones at officers and onto an adjoining roadway near the Western Wall.
Israel has come under growing international criticism for its heavy-handed actions at the site, particularly during Ramadhan, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Ofir Gendelman said and claimed in a tweet that “extremists planned well in advance to carry out riots” at the holy site. He attached photos from the compound showing piles of stones and wooden boards, suggesting this was part of the protesters’ preparations for a confrontation. He said Israel guarantees freedom of worship, but “not the freedom to riot and attack innocent people”.
In another incident, Palestinian protesters hurled rocks at an Israeli vehicle driving just outside the Old City walls. The driver appeared to lose control and slammed into a bystander. Police said in a statement that two passengers were injured.
Violence has occurred almost nightly throughout Ramadhan, beginning when Israel blocked off a popular spot where Muslims traditionally gather each night at the end of their daylong fast. Israel later removed the restrictions, but clashes quickly resumed amid tensions over the eviction plan in Sheikh Jarrah, an Arab neighbourhood where settlers have waged a lengthy legal battle to take over properties.
Israel’s Supreme Court postponed a key ruling yesterday that could have led to the evictions of dozens of Palestinians from their homes, citing the “circumstances”.
The Israeli crackdown and planned evictions have drawn harsh condemnations from Israel’s Arab allies and expressions of concern from the United States (US), European Union (EU) and United Nations (UN).
The UN Security Council scheduled closed consultations yesterday on the soaring tensions in Jerusalem. Diplomats said the meeting was requested by Tunisia, the Arab representative on the council.
On Sunday, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke to his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat and urged calm.
A White House statement said that Sullivan called on Israel to to “pursue appropriate measures to ensure calm” and expressed the US’s “serious concerns” about the ongoing violence and planned evictions.
The tensions in Jerusalem have threatened to reverberate throughout the region.
Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip have fired several barrages of rockets into Israel, and protesters allied with the ruling Hamas militant group have launched dozens of incendiary balloons into Israel, setting off fires across the southern part of the country.