Israel police clash with worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque

The Guardian  /  April 5, 2023

 Reports that hundreds were arrested and several injured early on Wednesday after raid that police say was sparked by rioting.

Israeli police entered Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound before dawn on Wednesday and clashed with worshippers, in what police said was a response to rioting that set off a furious reaction across the West Bank and cross border strikes in Gaza.

At least nine rockets were later fired from Gaza, prompting airstrikes from Israel, which struck what it said were Hamas training camps, setting off ground-shaking explosions that were heard across the blockaded coastal strip.

Witnesses said Israeli tanks also shelled Hamas positions along the border fence in the southern part of the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said 12 Palestinians sustained wounds from rubber-tipped bullets and beatings in clashes with Israeli police at al-Aqsa. It added that Israeli forces were preventing its medics from reaching the area.

“In the yard to the eastern part of the compound, the police fired teargas and stun grenades, it was a scene that I can’t describe,” said Fahmi Abbas, a worshipper at the mosque. “Then they stormed in and started beating everyone. They detained people and put the young men face down on the ground while they continued beating them.”

Israeli police said in a statement that security units were forced to enter the compound after what it called masked agitators locked themselves inside the mosque with fireworks, sticks and stones.

“When the police entered, stones were thrown at them and fireworks were fired from inside the mosque by a large group of agitators,” the statement said, adding that a police officer was wounded in the leg.

Palestinian lawyer Firas al-Jibrini said police arrested about 500 people who were taken for questioning.

The incident drew a sharp reaction from Arab countries. Jordan and Egypt, both involved in recent US-backed efforts to de-escalate tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, issued separate statements strongly condemning the incident, while Saudi Arabia, with whom Israel hopes to normalise ties, said Israel’s “storming” of Al-Aqsa undermined peace efforts.

The Palestinian leadership condemned Israel’s attacks on worshippers, which they described as a crime.

“We warn the occupation against crossing red lines at holy sites, which will lead to a big explosion,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesperson for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Tension had already been high in East Jerusalem and the West Bank for months, and fears of further violence were fuelled by the convergence of Ramadan and the Passover.

Such confrontations at the contested holy compound, the third holiest shrine in Islam that is also the most sacred site in Judaism and referred to as the Temple Mount, have sparked deadly cross-border wars between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers in the past, the last was in 2021.

Israeli-Palestinian violence has surged over the last year, as the Israeli military has carried out near-nightly raids on Palestinian cities, towns and villages and as Palestinians have staged numerous attacks against Israelis.

At least 88 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire this year, according to an Associated Press tally. Palestinian attacks against Israelis have killed 15 people in the same period.

Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report