Clashes erupted between Israelis and Palestinians at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound on Thursday, after a 10-day cooling of tensions at the holy site, Israeli police said.
The police said they had repelled “dozens of rioters” who had been “throwing stones and other objects” at the security forces. An AFP correspondent said there was a heavy police presence in front of the mosque as groups of Jewish worshippers returned to the site for the first time this month. The Palestinian Red Crescent said two people had been injured in clashes.
The clashes came on the anniversary of Israel’s 1948 independence and followed a tense period in which the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, the Jewish festival of Passover and the Christian holiday of Easter overlapped.
Some 600 Jewish “extremists” converged on the compound, the sheikh of Al-Aqsa mosque, Omar al-Kiswani, told AFP.
The Palestinian foreign ministry labelled the Israeli actions a “declaration of religious war” while Jordan condemned Israel for allowing Jewish “extremists” to “break into” the compound.
The site is Islam’s third-holiest. It is also Judaism’s holiest place, known to Jews as the Temple Mount. Palestinians have been angered by an uptick in Jewish visits to the compound, where by longstanding convention Jews may visit but are not allowed to pray. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has said the Jewish state “will not change” this status quo.
The latest morning violence came following a tense April, in which nearly 300 people were injured in clashes between police and Palestinians at Al-Aqsa, while violence also flared in the occupied West Bank, following a wave of attacks in Israel and raids by the Israeli military.
Last week, the Gaza Strip’s Islamist rulers Hamas threatened Israel with rockets and synagogue attacks if Israeli forces carried out further raids on the site. “You should be ready for a great battle if the (Israeli) occupation does not stop attacking Al-Aqsa mosque,” said Yahya Sinwar, Hamas chief in the Israeli-blockaded Palestinian enclave.
A raid by Israeli police into the compound last month sparked widespread condemnation from regional leaders. Jordan, which manages Jerusalem’s holy sites, accused Israel of upsetting the long-standing status quo which allows all faiths to worship at their sacred sites in the city.
The mounting violence since March 22 has killed 14 people, including an Arab-Israeli police officer and two Ukrainians, in four separate attacks inside Israel. Two of the deadly attacks were carried out in the Tel Aviv area by Palestinians.
A total of 26 Palestinians and three Israeli Arabs have died during the same period, among them perpetrators of attacks and those killed by Israeli security forces in West Bank operations.