At least 152 Palestinians were injured in clashes with Israeli police at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the Palestine Red Crescent said, two weeks into the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Israeli security forces have been on high alert after a series of deadly Arab street attacks throughout the country during the past two weeks, and confrontations at the sacred Jerusalem site carry the risk of sparking a slide back into wider conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
In a statement, Israeli police said hundreds of Palestinians hurled firecrackers and stones at their forces and toward the nearby Jewish prayer area of the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City after Ramadan morning prayers.
Police entered the Al-Aqsa compound to “disperse and push back (the crowd and) enable the rest of the worshippers to leave the place safely”, it said, adding that three officers were injured in the clashes.
Reuters video showed officers, some in riot gear, chasing a small number of people after most of the crowd had left.
Israeli police arrested more than 80 Palestinians, Sheikh Omar Al-Kiswani, director of Al-Aqsa Mosque, told Palestine TV.
The Palestinian foreign ministry said it “holds Israel fully and directly responsible for this crime and its consequences”.
“Immediate intervention by the international community is needed to stop Israeli aggression against Al-Aqsa mosque and prevent things from going out of control,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who governs self-ruled areas of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that controls Gaza, said Israel “bears responsibility for the consequences”.
The Al-Aqsa compound, which sits atop the Old City plateau and is known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif, or The Noble Sanctuary, and to Jews as Temple Mount, is the most sensitive site in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Tensions this year have been heightened in part by Ramadan coinciding with the Jewish celebration of Passover.
Last year saw nightly clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police during the Muslim fasting month. Threats of Palestinian displacement in East Jerusalem and police raids at Al-Aqsa helped ignite an 11-day Israel-Gaza war that killed more than 250 Palestinians in Gaza and 13 people in Israel.
Since March, Israeli forces have killed 29 Palestinians as in the course of carrying out raids in the West Bank after Palestinian assailants killed 14 Israelis in a string of attacks in Israeli cities.
Al-Aqsa is the third holiest in Islam and is also revered by Jews as the location of two ancient temples.
Israel captured the Old City and other parts of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and claims the entire city as its eternal, indivisible capital. Palestinians seek to make East Jerusalem, including its Muslim, Christian and Jewish holy sites, the capital of a future state.