Israeli Police, Palestinians Clash at Al-Aqsa Mosque; Over 160 Injuries

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -
palestinian protest al aqsa
Worshippers wave Hamas and Palestinian flags during a protest at the Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Al Aqsa Mosque compound on the Temple Mount, Friday. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Israeli police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades toward rock-hurling Palestinian youth at AlAqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount Friday, amid growing anger over the potential eviction of Palestinians from homes on land claimed by Jews.

At least 163 Palestinians and six officers were injured in the night-time clashes at Islam’s third-holiest site, Palestinian medics and Israeli police said, as thousands of Palestinians faced off with several hundred Israeli police in riot gear.

Tension has mounted in Jerusalem and the West Bank during Ramadan, with nightly clashes in east Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah — a neighborhood where numerous Palestinian families face eviction in a long-running legal case.

Calls for calm and restraint poured in on Friday from the United States and the United Nations, with others including the European Union and Jordan voicing alarm at the possible evictions.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians packed into the hilltop compound surrounding the mosque earlier on Friday for prayers. Many stayed on to protest against the evictions.

But following the evening meal that breaks the Ramadan fast, clashes broke out at AlAqsa with smaller scuffles near Sheikh Jarrah, which sits near the walled Old City’s famous Damascus Gate.

Police used water cannons mounted on armored vehicles to disperse several hundred protesters gathered near the homes facing potential eviction.

An Aqsa official appealed for calm on the compound through the mosque‘s loudspeakers. “Police must immediately stop firing stun grenades at worshipers, and the youth must calm down and be quiet!”

Israel’s Supreme Court will hold a hearing on the Sheikh Jarrah evictions on Monday, the same day that Israel marks Jerusalem Day — its annual celebration of the day it took east Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War.

The Palestine Red Crescent ambulance service said 83 of the Palestinians injured at AlAqsa were taken to the hospital after being hit with rubber-coated metal bullets.

One of the injured lost an eye, two suffered serious head wounds and two had their jaws fractured, the Red Crescent said. The rest of the injuries were minor.

A police spokeswoman said Palestinians had thrown rocks, fireworks and other objects towards officers, with some of the six injured requiring medical treatment.

“We will respond with a heavy hand to any violent disturbance, rioting or harm to our officers, and will work to find those responsible and bring them to justice,” the spokeswoman said.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he “held (Israel) responsible for the dangerous developments” and called on the U.N. Security Council to hold an urgent session on the issue.

Violence has also increased in the West Bank, where two Palestinian terrorists were killed and a third critically injured on Friday after they opened fire at an Israeli base, police said. After that incident, Israel’s military said it would send additional combat troops to the West Bank.

Sheikh Jarrah’s residents are overwhelmingly Palestinian, but the neighborhood also contains a the kever of Shimon Hatzaddik.

Washington was “deeply concerned about the heightened tensions in Jerusalem,” said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter.

“As we head into a sensitive period in the days ahead, it will be critical for all sides to ensure calm and act responsibly to deescalate tensions and avoid violent confrontation,” Porter said.

The European Union, Jordan and the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council have expressed alarm at the potential evictions.

Israel’s foreign ministry said on Friday that Palestinians were “presenting a real-estate dispute between private parties as a nationalist cause, in order to incite violence in Jerusalem.” Palestinians rejected the allegation.