Clashes break out in Jerusalem, Israel responds to rockets from Gaza with air strikes
The videos showed dozens of Israeli policemen in the compound outside the mosque just after dawn on Thursday, as Palestinians launched fireworks at them from inside the building. Other videos showed police firing stun grenades.
Later, around 7:30 am, a group of Jewish visitors entered the complex, many of them in religious robes, protected by Israeli security forces.
The hilltop site is sacred to both Muslims and Jews and has been a hot spot for decades. The Jews call it the Temple Mount and venerate it as the site of the first and second temples. Muslims call it Haram al Sharif and believe it to be the place from which the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
Since 1967, the provisions have been governed by a “status quo” arrangement, which only allows Muslims to pray on the site, although anyone is allowed to visit at certain times. In an effort to reduce tensions, and in line with similar Israeli government decisions in recent years, there will be no more visits from Jewish groups from today until the end of Ramadan, in about ten days.
“In common with the last few days, this morning, at the end of the dawn prayer, dozens of transgressors and masked men revolted and disrupted order on the Temple Mount, with severe violence,” a statement from the Israeli police.
Police described the recent launch of fireworks from inside the mosque, at least one of which caused a small fire in a carpet, as an act of desecration. Allegations that the Al-Aqsa mosque is being dismantled are routinely thrown between the two sides, with Palestinians and others claiming that Israeli security forces desecrate the building when they set foot there.
Israel blames Hamas for inciting Palestinians to take the mosque and believes the militant group is considering whether to escalate the conflict over Gaza as well. On Thursday night, at least five rockets were launched from the coastal enclave towards Israel. The Israeli military said most were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system.
Israeli warplanes carried out successive air strikes on Hamas targets in Gaza, the military said. A strike hit the entrance to an underground facility involved in the production of rocket engines, he said. There is no news from Gaza of injuries.
Earlier on Wednesday evening, tensions in Jerusalem escalated as Jewish nationalists, led by extremist lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir, attempted to march to the Damascus Gate, one of the main entrances to the Old City used by Palestinians.
The police refused to grant a permit for the march and managed to prevent the main group, mostly young people, from reaching the gate, but later there were small clashes in the streets of the Old City between Jewish nationalists, local Palestinians and Israeli police.
In one video, a group of nationalists break into a chant of “Death to the Arabs” as they surround Palestinian men at a food stall and start pushing them around.
The city has been in the balance for the past week with periodic clashes erupting on or around the Al-Aqsa mosque complex. Friday saw the most serious unrest when more than 150 Palestinians were injured, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent, along with several policemen. None of the injuries were reportedly life-threatening.