Clashes erupted between Palestinians and Israeli police on the Temple Mount early Friday morning, as rising tensions, terror threats and the observance of major holidays all converge around the holy flashpoint site.
Skirmishes between police and worshipers at the site were reported around 6.30am, with officers entering the compound and clashing with people barricaded inside.
Police said in a statement that around 4 a.m. dozens of youths began marching in the area. Some displayed the Palestinian flag, while others carried green banners associated with the terrorist group Hamas.
Protesters threw rocks and lit fireworks, while stockpiling rocks and other items to prepare for further clashes, police said.
Police said they waited until after morning prayers before entering the Temple Mount to disperse the rioters, and some of them threw rocks at the Western Wall below.
According to the police, Palestinians barricaded themselves inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque, from where they threw stones at officers. The police statement said the riots were preventing prayers at the mosque and “thus harming large numbers of Muslims” seeking to pray there.
According to the police, three officers suffered minor injuries after being pelted with stones, two of whom required medical attention.
The Palestinian Red Crescent emergency group reported that 158 people were injured in the clashes. He said the vast majority had been treated at al-Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem or at a field hospital set up by doctors, without giving details of the nature of the injuries.
Police released video footage of the scene.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a statement clarifying that the officers did not enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism.
“Masked men throw stones and launch fireworks, desecrating Al-Aqsa Mosque,” he added. “Contrary to the FALSE reports, the police forces DID NOT enter the mosque.”
Masked men throw stones and launch fireworks, desecrating the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Contrary to false reports, the police forces did NOT enter the mosque. pic.twitter.com/IaXnXbcDts
— Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (@IsraelMFA) April 15, 2022
But later Friday morning, police entered the mosque and arrested several Palestinians, video footage showed.
The director of the mosque said some 400 Palestinians were detained. A police source cited by the Kan public broadcaster later confirmed some 400 arrests.
Police said in a statement that they had pledged to allow prayers at the holy site. “We call on worshipers to maintain order and observe prayers in an orderly manner. The Israel Police will not allow rioters to disrupt prayers and disturb public order,” the police said.
He later added that the site had been reopened to worshippers, after “all public order offenders had been dispersed and arrested”.
— الصحفي هاني الشاعر ???????????????????????? (@JOURHANIALSHAER) April 15, 2022
In footage of the police raid shared on social media, officers could be seen hitting Palestinians with batons for no apparent reason.
صح كلامك pic.twitter.com/DYsmBT5uiv
— الطـٓير الحـــر (@l_bahaa) April 15, 2022
אין מילים. pic.twitter.com/R8zYgKREEj
— Deiaa haj yahia (@DeiaaHaj) April 15, 2022
The Hamas terror group said in a statement that Israel would bear the consequences of its “brutal attacks”.
“Our people in Jerusalem are not alone in the battle for Al-Aqsa. All the Palestinian people and their noble resistance and vital power are with them,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said.
Earlier this week, terror groups in Gaza repeated that Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque were red lines for them.
Fears of violence were already exorbitant before the Friday morning scuffles.
This Friday is the second in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the first night of Judaism’s weeklong Passover holiday and Good Friday, when Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Meanwhile, a series of deadly terrorist attacks in Israel in recent weeks have claimed 14 lives and left Israel reeling. The attacks prompted countermeasures by Israeli security forces across the West Bank, including arrests that escalated into violence.
Hamas on Thursday called for an escalation against Israel and urged “hundreds of thousands” to attend Friday prayers in Jerusalem, further stoking fears of conflict.
Thousands of police and hundreds of soldiers have been sent to the capital to reinforce security in the streets and in crowded places. Security forces warned against attempts to carry out further attacks and worked to close gaps in the separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank.
Border Police operations chief Oded Aflalo told Ynet on Thursday that police troops were on the highest level of alert.
“Today is the day when we are at our peak for preparations before Seder night, combined with Friday prayers for Ramadan,” he said, referring to the traditional dinner on the first night of Passover. . “All possible scenarios are on the table, from the level of a threatening individual to a terrorist cell of a terrorist organization.”
He said Border Police were working to find Palestinians who were already in Israel illegally.
A senior police official told Ynet that additional officers would guard train stations and bus stops, which are expected to be filled with travelers and soldiers returning home from military bases. The police official also said security will be tightened at hotels and other venues that will host large Seder dinners.
Palestinian Authority security forces are cooperating with their Israeli counterparts and most Palestinians should not take to the streets, Channel 12 reported.
A senior security official told Channel 12 that a flare-up in violence could drag Israel into another round of fighting in Gaza like last year’s war with Hamas.
“If there is an escalation tomorrow and there are casualties, we could move to Operation Guardian of the Walls in the second round,” he said, referring to the 2021 conflict.
Ramadan is usually a time of high tension, as tens of thousands of worshippers, including many Palestinians from the West Bank, attend services at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits atop the Temple Mount complex. The site is the holiest site in Judaism and the mosque is the third holiest site in Islam.
The site is the emotional epicenter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and tensions can easily snowball into wider conflagrations. Hamas and other Gaza-based terror groups have repeatedly invoked the holy site as a red line. Police actions to quell riots there last year helped spark the 11-day war in Gaza in May.
This week, a group of Jewish extremists escalated tensions by publicly encouraging ritual Passover sacrifices on the Temple Mount. Jews are allowed to visit the compound, but not to pray or perform religious rituals, under a delicate status quo.
The extremist group Returning to the Mount, which advocates the construction of a third Jewish temple on the site that once housed the two biblical temples, announced on Facebook on Monday that it would offer a cash prize to those who manage to sacrifice a lamb the Temple Mount, and to anyone arrested trying to do so.
A small group of Jewish extremists sometimes sought to perform the Bible-mandated Passover sacrifice on the Temple Mount. Police have regularly detained the perpetrators, who appear to have failed to make a sacrifice in recent years at the site.
This year’s campaign of would-be-sacrificers gained huge coverage in Palestinian and Arab media following the social media post, which drew threats from Hamas and condemnation from Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. Israeli authorities have pledged to end any attempts to bring sacrificial animals into the compound, as they have done in recent years.
On Thursday, Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza said in a joint statement, “We declare a general mobilization in all places where our people are. We call on the masses to come out in their hundreds of thousands to protect our nation and our mosque. »
Six Jews were arrested Thursday morning after police suspected they planned to sacrifice a goat on the Temple Mount ahead of Passover.
Israel has conveyed messages to Hamas that Israeli authorities will not allow Jewish extremists to make sacrifices on the Temple Mount, Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri told Hamas media.
Al-Arouri said Hamas did not trust Israel’s assurances and that the terror group was preparing to respond to attempts to “smear Al-Aqsa”.
Tens of thousands of people were already expected to attend Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa. Most Ramadan worshipers will enter Israel without permits, part of a policy aimed at easing the normally tight Israeli restrictions on movement of Palestinians during the holidays. Participation by West Bank Palestinians is limited to women, children and men over the age of 50, in accordance with Defense Ministry orders issued earlier this month.
Letting thousands of Palestinians in carries an obvious security risk for Israel, but cracking down on worshipers during Ramadan could trigger an outbreak of violence.
Adding to holiday friction, Israeli troops have carried out extensive raids in the West Bank following the deadliest outbreak of terror in Israel in years. The raids led to violent protests in many West Bank communities.
At least 16 Palestinians have been killed in clashes with the IDF in the past two weeks alone, including a 17-year-old who died Friday morning from wounds sustained the day before.
A total of 18 suspects have been arrested in the West Bank in recent days, the IDF said Thursday.