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Hundreds arrested in clashes at Jerusalem mosque flashpoint

Israeli police raided Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem

Palestinians perform morning prayers near the Al-Asbat Gate as Israeli police again raid the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex in East Jerusalem on April 05, 2023.

Mostafa Alkharuf / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Israeli police stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City early Wednesday, lobbing stun grenades at Palestinian youths who threw firecrackers at them amid violence during a touchy holiday season. Gaza militants respond to rocket fire into southern Israel, prompting Israeli airstrikes.

An Israeli police spokesman said they had arrested more than 350 people who had “violently barricaded” inside, Agence France-Presse reported.

As Muslims approach the holiday month of Ramadan and Jews prepare to begin the Passover festival on Wednesday evening, the war has condemned the Palestinians and raised fears of a widespread wildfire. A similar clash took place two years ago 11 day war between Israel and Hamas. The Israeli military said a soldier was shot dead in a separate incident in the occupied West Bank.

The mosque is located on top of a sensitive hill sacred to both Jews and Muslims. Al-Aqsa is Islam’s third-holiest site and is usually packed with worshipers during Ramadan. The site, known as the Temple Mount to Jews, is the holiest site in Judaism, who revere it as the location of the biblical Jewish Temples. Opponents claim that this creates constant tensions that have erupted into violence many times in the past.

Since Ramadan began on March 22, many Muslim worshipers have been trying to stay overnight in mosques, a practice that is usually allowed during the last 10 days of the month-long holiday. Israeli police moved in at night to evict worshippers, sparking tensions with young Palestinians who demanded to pray at the holy site until dawn.

The official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported that police raids injured dozens of worshipers who were praying at night.

Israeli police said they moved in after “several law-breaking youths and masked protesters” brought fireworks, sticks and stones and barricaded themselves inside the mosque. Police said the youth shouted violent slogans and barricaded the front door.

“After trying to get them out by talking for a long time to no avail, the police force had to enter the compound to get them out,” the police said.

Israel is Palestinian

Palestinians line up after an Israeli police raid on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on April 5, 2023.

Mahmoud Ilian/AP

Video released by the police showed repeated firework explosions inside the mosque. An amateur video taken by Palestinians shows police brawling with people and beating them with clubs and rifle butts as a woman’s voice is heard shouting, “Oh God. Oh God.”

Outside the gate, police dispersed groups of youths with stun grenades and rubber bullets.

Police said one officer was injured in the leg.

Talab Abu Isha (49) said more than 400 men, women and children were praying at Al-Aqsa when police surrounded the mosque.

“The youths started to close the doors in fear,” he said, adding that the police force “attacked the eastern corner, beating and arresting the men there.”

“It was an unprecedented scene of police brutality and violence intended to hurt the youth,” he said, denying police claims that the youth had hidden firecrackers and stones. He also said that all men below 50 years of age were stopped by the police from entering the compound for Fajr prayers on Wednesday morning through the gates of the old city.

Palestinian militants responded by firing a barrage of rockets from Gaza into southern Israel, setting off air raid sirens in the region as residents prepared for the start of the week-long Passover holiday.

The Israeli military said a total of five rockets were fired and all were intercepted. Hours later, Israel responded with airstrikes in Gaza. No information about the target was immediately available.

Excited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new far-right government has been on the rise since taking power Late last year. The government is dominated by religious and ultra-nationalist hardliners, and the overlap of Jewish and Muslim holidays – when thousands of worshipers make their way to contested Jerusalem – has raised fears of violence.

Itamar Ben-Gavir, an ultra-nationalist with a history of violent rhetoric against Palestinians, oversees the police force.

In Gaza, Hamas has called for large protests and people have begun gathering in the streets, calling for more violent protests to head to the heavily guarded Gaza-Israel border.

Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad called on Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, the West Bank and Israel to gather around Al-Aqsa Mosque and confront Israeli forces.

In the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian leadership condemned the attack on worshippers. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, warned Israel that such a move would “cross all red lines and cause a big explosion.”

The Jordanian government, which acts as the mosque’s custodian, condemned the Israeli attack “in the strongest terms.” The Foreign Ministry “warned of the consequences of this dangerous escalation and held Israel responsible for the security of the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

As violence erupted in Jerusalem, the Israeli military reported fighting in a Palestinian town in the occupied West Bank. It said residents of Beit Umar, near the restive city of Hebron, burned tires, threw rocks and explosives at the soldiers. It said the armed suspects shot one of the soldiers, who managed to escape.

Earlier Tuesday, a Palestinian suspect stabbed two Israelis near an army base south of Tel Aviv, police said, the latest in a year of violence that shows no sign of stopping.

The Magen David Adom Paramedic Service said first responders treated two people for serious and minor stab wounds in the incident on a highway near the Tzrifin military base. The men were taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.

Israeli media identified the two dead as soldiers.

Police said civilians at the scene apprehended the suspected attacker, who has been taken into police custody for questioning.

Israeli-Palestinian violence has escalated over the past year, as the Israeli military has conducted almost nightly raids on Palestinian towns, cities and villages, and Palestinians have carried out numerous attacks against Israelis.

At least 88 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli gunfire this year, according to the Associated Press. At the same time, 15 people were killed in Palestinian attacks against Israelis.

Israel says most of the dead Palestinians are militants. But stone-throwing youths and bystanders not involved in the violence were also among the dead. All of the Israeli casualties were civilians.

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