Israeli police fired sound grenades to disperse Palestinians during confrontations on Sunday outside Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque where tens of thousands of Muslim worshippers gathered for the Eid al-Adha holiday, witnesses said.
A Palestinian ambulance service said that at least 14 Palestinians were taken to hospitals for treatment. Israel’s Kan public radio said four police officers were injured.
Facing off with police in the packed compound outside Islam’s third-holiest site, Palestinians chanted “With our soul and blood we will redeem you, Aqsa”.
Scuffles ensued and the crowd fled as the sound grenades exploded and smoke wafted through the compound, witnesses said.
Revered by Jews as Temple Mount, the site of two biblical Jewish temples, and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, the area is one of the most sensitive sites in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Tensions had mounted at the flashpoint complex at the start of Eid al-Adha as the holiday overlapped this year with the Jewish fast day of Tisha B’Av, amid calls by Jewish nationalist and religious politicians for Jews to visit the holy compound.
In a statement, police said they had deployed forces at the site in anticipation of disturbances and “dispersed rioters”. It put the number of Muslim worshippers at the site at some 60,000.
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organization, accused Israel of provoking religious and political tension.
“The storming of al-Aqsa mosque compound by Israeli occupation forces this Eid morning is an act of recklessness and aggression,” she said in a statement.
The compound is situated in a part of Jerusalem captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in a move that has not been recognised internationally.
In an effort to avoid friction at the site, police barred the entry of non-Muslim visitors, including Jews, before the clashes erupted.
After the confrontations died down, Jerusalem District Police Chief Doron Yedid said on Kan radio that he had lifted the ban. Jewish visitors then entered the area under heavy police guard and no serious violence was reported.
Palestine: Israeli escalation in Al-Aqsa Mosque can turn conflict into religious strife
The Palestinian presidency condemned the Israeli occupation forces storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque and attacking worshipers on the first day of Eid al-Adha, warning that Israel’s escalation could turn the political conflict into religious strife.
“We hold the Israeli government responsible for police breaking into the courtyards of Al-Aqsa Mosque and attacking worshipers, which is a major provocation to the feelings of Muslims and serves to fuel the situation and increase tension that would drag the region to the square of violence,” Presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said in a statement on Sunday.
Israeli police attacked tens of thousands of Palestinian Muslims who were holding the morning prayers for the first day of Eid al-Adha, one of the main Muslim holidays, at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City, causing several dozen injuries, mainly among elderly people who had to be transferred to hospitals for treatment.
The police attack came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and extremist right-wing Israeli officials pressed for allowing fanatic Jews into the Muslim holy compound on this important Muslim holiday. In order to allow the fanatic Jews in, Israeli police attacked the Muslim worshippers and forced them out of the holy compound while preventing them from carrying out their religious duty.
Abu Rudeineh affirmed the need to stop the Israeli violations against Al-Aqsa Mosque, stressing that it is a red line that cannot be tolerated in the face of repeated attacks on this holy place by the occupation forces and its settlers.
The spokesman said that President Abbas salutes our people in Jerusalem for their steadfastness in the face of the occupation schemes that seek to change the status quo at Al-Aqsa Mosque as an only Muslim holy place. He called for urgent international and Arab intervention in order to curb the aggression and Israeli arrogance and force Israel as an occupying power to stop its actions and practices in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa.
“We warn the Israeli government against continuing to allow settlers to carry out these crimes and we warn against turning the political conflict into a religious one that could burn everything in its way,” Abu Rudeineh said.