Israeli police, Palestinians clash at Jerusalem holy site
JERUSALEM – Israeli security forces and Palestinian worshippers clashed at a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site Sunday as overlapping Jewish and Muslim holidays led to tensions there, wounding dozens of Palestinians and four police.
Separately on the Gaza border, a Palestinian shot at Israeli soldiers, who returned fire and killed him in the third such incident in recent days, the Isreali army and Hamas’s health ministry said.
In occupied Jerusalem, Israeli police fired sound grenades as Palestinian protests intensified at the highly sensitive Al-Aqsa mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, an AFP correspondent reported.
The Red Crescent reported 61 Palestinians injured, 15 of whom were taken to hospitals.
Police said four officers were wounded as Palestinian protesters threw stones and other objects at security forces, who responded with what they called riot-dispersal means.
Sunday marked the start of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday and thousands of Palestinians prayed at the Al-Aqsa mosque.
It coincided with the Jewish Tisha B’av holiday, which typically sees an increase in visits by Jewish religious nationalists to the holy site.
Israeli police initially barred Jewish visits to the site on Sunday but Palestinian worshippers suspected that they would be allowed in and protested there. The clashes with police broke out afterward.
After relative calm returned and following criticism from Israeli far-right politicians, police then opened the site to Jewish visits, sparking further clashes.
Palestinian worshippers blocked from entering after the clashes gathered outside and protested.
“It’s our mosque, it’s our Eid,” said Assisa Abu Sneineh, 32, adding she was there when the clashes erupted.
“All of a sudden (security forces) arrived and began to hit and fire sound grenades.”
Some 1,300 Jews visited the site on Sunday, according to the Muslim Waqf organisation, which administers the holy compound.
Jordan, the site’s custodian and one of only two Arab countries with a peace treaty with Israel, condemned Israel’s “continuous violations” there.
Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi called Israel’s response “an act of recklessness and aggression.”
Yehuda Glick, a former Israeli parliament member and a prominent campaigner for greater Jewish access to the site, accused Palestinian worshippers of provoking the clashes.
The compound, which includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, is one of the most sensitive sites in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Tisha B’av commemorates the destruction of the two temples.
The site is located in east Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed in a move rejected by the international community.
Jews can visit but not pray there to avoid provoking tensions.
A potent symbol of Palestinian national identity, it is the scene of regular clashes between Palestinian worshippers and Israeli police.
Sunday’s incidents come only weeks ahead of Israel’s September 17 elections, where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces pressure from Israeli far-right politicians.
The separate incident on the Gaza border followed two similar ones since the start of the month.
On Saturday, Israel’s army said troops shot dead four armed Palestinians on the Gaza border, adding one had managed to cross and throw a grenade at soldiers.
On August 1, a Palestinian seeking to avenge his brother’s death by Israeli fire entered Israel from Gaza and opened fire on soldiers, the army said.
Three Israeli soldiers were wounded and the Palestinian was killed, it said.
Regular protests and clashes erupted along the border of the blockaded Gaza Strip in March 2018.
At least 302 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in Gaza or the border area since then, the majority during demonstrations and clashes.
Seven Israelis have also been killed in Gaza-related violence.
The protests have declined in intensity in recent months following a UN and Egyptian-brokered truce.
(AW and agencies)