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Clashes erupt as Israel police storm flashpoint Jerusalem mosque

UN chief 'shocked' by violence of Israeli security forces at mosque: spokesman
Source: Video Screenshot

Israeli police clashed with Palestinians inside Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque Wednesday, sparking a military exchange of rockets and air strikes in flaring violence as the Jewish Passover coincides with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Armed police in riot gear stormed the mosque’s prayer hall before dawn, aiming to dislodge “law-breaking youths and masked agitators” they said had barricaded themselves inside following evening prayers.

The officers were met with a barrage of rocks and fireworks, police video showed. More than 350 arrests were made in the raid, which drew threats from Palestinian groups and wide condemnation from Muslim countries and beyond the region.

UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland urged “leaders on all sides” to “act responsibly and refrain from steps that could escalate tensions”.

Washington expressed “alarm” at “the shocking scenes in Al-Aqsa Mosque and rockets launched from Gaza toward Israel”.

In a statement, the US office of Palestinian affairs called for “restraint and de-escalation to allow peaceful worship and to protect the sanctity of the holy sites”.

Germany urged both sides “to do everything possible to calm the situation”.

Palestinian witness Abdel Karim Ikraiem, 74, charged that Israeli police armed with batons, tear gas grenades and smoke bombs, burst into the mosque “by force” and “beat the women and men” worshipping there.

One video widely circulated on social media showed police clubbing people on the floor inside the mosque.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said it had treated 37 people for injuries, including some after their release from custody.

Israel’s far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir voiced his “complete backing” for police and praised their “swift and determined” actions.

Palestinian militant group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, called on West Bank Palestinians “to go en masse to the Al-Aqsa mosque to defend it”.

Rockets were fired in the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday from Gaza into Israel, without causing casualties, prompting retaliatory air strikes.

The mosque in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem is Islam’s third holiest site. It is built on top of what Jews call the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site.

It has been a frequent flashpoint, particularly during Ramadan, and clashes there in May 2021 sparked the latest Gaza war that raged for 11 days.

– Rocks and fireworks –

On Gaza’s streets, protesters burnt tyres and chanted: “We swear to defend and protect the Al-Aqsa mosque.”

Calm had returned to the compound by late morning, when Israeli police escorted a small group of Jewish visitors through the site. An officer told an AFP journalist police were only allowing those aged 60 and over to access the compound.

Israeli police said the Palestinians had barricaded themselves inside the mosque from Tuesday evening, and ahead of Passover which starts on Wednesday evening.

Police “were forced to enter the compound in order to get them out with the intentions to allow the Fajr (dawn) prayer and to prevent a violent disturbance,” after prolonged attempts at talking with the Palestinians failed to get them to leave, said a police statement.

“When the police entered, stones were thrown at them and fireworks were fired from inside the mosque by a large group of agitators,” police said, reporting one officer injured in the leg.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “security forces were compelled to act in order to restore order”.

Within hours, at least nine rockets were fired from Gaza towards Israel, the army said, adding that “in response” warplanes struck two suspected Hamas weapons-manufacturing sites in the enclave.

The air strikes were followed by new rocket fire from Gaza and further Israeli strikes, AFP journalists reported.

Islamic Jihad, another Gaza-based militant group, said the rockets were “a first warning message” following the Israeli “aggression”.

– ‘Intensifying violence’ –

Palestinian civil affairs minister Hussein al-Sheikh condemned the Israeli police action inside Al-Aqsa, saying “the level of brutality requires urgent Palestinian, Arab and international action”.

The Arab League denounced “the attack on the faithful” and called an emergency meeting.

Jordan, which administers the mosque, condemned its “storming”, and called on Israeli forces to leave the compound immediately.

Turkey denounced the clashes as “unacceptable”.

The United Arab Emirates and Morocco, which established ties with Israel in 2020 as part of US-brokered accords, also strongly condemned the Israeli police action.

In its statement, the UAE’s foreign ministry also criticised worshippers who “barricade themselves”.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has descended into intensifying violence since the most right-wing government in Israel’s history took office in late December under Netanyahu.

So far this year, it has claimed the lives of at least 91 Palestinians, 15 Israelis and one Ukrainian, according to an AFP tally based on official sources from both sides.

On the Palestinian side, those killed include both combatants and civilians. On the Israeli side, they include two members of the Arab minority.

About the author


Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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