JERUSALEM: Clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians at Al-Aqsa Mosque, a major holy site in Jerusalem, on Friday left 158 Palestinians injured, six seriously.
Three paramedics, three journalists, and 400 other people were arrested during a dawn raid on the mosque to evict 2,000 worshippers in which police officers used gas bombs and rubber bullets and were seen in videos pushing and beating individuals.
Palestinian sources said the Israeli police closed all the mosque doors, prevented Red Crescent crews from entering, and impeded the arrival of ambulances to transport the injured from inside the mosque compound to hospitals.
It was also alleged that police targeted Al-Aqsa guards, press, medical staff, and Red Crescent medics with rubber bullets and deliberately hit them with batons.
And they were accused of seizing ambulance keys and surrounding the Al-Aqsa clinic where first aid was being administered to dozens of wounded people. Witnesses said worshippers were hit by gas bombs and made to lie down before being savagely beaten.
As a result of the raid, violent confrontations broke out between Israeli police and hundreds of young men in the compound.
A massive rally was organized after dawn prayers in support of Al-Aqsa and as a warning against settlers’ incursions into the mosque during the Jewish Passover, which began on Friday evening. At the same time, Palestinian youths threw stones and firecrackers at Israeli police.
On Thursday, Al-Aqsa guards thwarted an attempt by three settlers in hoods disguised as Arabs to enter the courtyards of the mosque.
The doors of Al-Aqsa were reopened to worshippers shortly before the Friday prayer after Israeli forces arrested and evicted hundreds of young men from Al-Aqsa courtyards.
The morning violence caused panic and fear among those who had gone to Jerusalem to perform the second Friday prayer of Ramadan at Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Sheikh Omar Al-Kiswani, the director of Al-Aqsa Mosque, told Arab News: “The invasion of the mosque by the Israeli occupation police and the violent suppression of the worshippers at dawn on Friday led to a decline in the number of worshippers. There were 60,000 worshippers while we expected the number to reach 170,000.”
And he accused Israel of consistently violating Al-Aqsa Mosque and provoking Muslims.
Al-Kiswani said: “Al-Aqsa Mosque is a sacred place for Muslims alone and does not accept partnership or its division with Jews. Israeli provocations, whether by police forces or extremist Jews, are sponsored by the right-wing Israeli government.
“The (Israeli) occupation allows the invasion of Al-Aqsa on every Jewish occasion and feast, whether it coincides with Ramadan or not.
“Jewish extremists and the Israeli occupation have nothing to do with Al-Aqsa, which is a pure right of Muslims alone, but the Israelis want to turn the conflict into a religious conflict and impose a new reality on the mosque,” he added.
He pointed out that successive Israeli governments for 16 years had been far-right governments, claiming that each one had tried to be more extremist than the last and win elections by escalating its policy against Al-Aqsa Mosque and controlling it.
“Ramadan days are for worship, but the occupation forces turn them into farewells to martyrs and commit repeated violations of the sanctity of Al-Aqsa Mosque,” Al-Kiswani said.
A statement issued by the Israeli police blamed worshippers for rioting and disturbing public order.
In the Gaza Strip, thousands of Palestinians participated in mass rallies after Friday prayers, condemning Israeli police brutality at Al-Aqsa.
Khaled Al-Batsh, a prominent leader of the Islamic jihad, said: “The hand of (Palestinian) resistance is long in Gaza, Jenin, and Nablus, and we will not stand idly by in the face of these provocations.”
Tor Wennesland, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, expressed deep concern over “the deteriorating security situations in Jerusalem during these holy days,” and said, “the provocation on the Holy Esplanade must stop now.”
He called for an immediate halt to the provocations at Al-Aqsa, noted that the UN was in close contact with key regional partners and the parties to calm the situation, and urged authorities on both sides to immediately de-escalate the situation.
Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, a center of Islamic learning, strongly condemned what it described as Israel’s “repeated violations and aggressions against defenseless Palestinians, allowing members of its forces to invade Al-Aqsa Mosque and violate its sanctity.
“The Israeli occupation’s killing of innocent Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Palestinian cities during the blessed month of Ramadan is a disgrace to the international community and humanity.”
In a Facebook post, prominent Palestinian leader, Mohammed Dahlan, said: “The occupation’s attempt to escape its internal crises by escalating violence against our Palestinian people and to use Jewish holidays to implement its Judaization plans will only lead to a further deterioration of the situation.
“Israel alone bears responsibility for its consequences and should be aware that it will not enjoy security and stability unless our Palestinian people enjoy it.”
Jordan condemned the Israeli police action and warned against the consequences of the dangerous escalation. It held the Israeli authorities responsible for the safety of Al-Aqsa Mosque and worshippers.