JERUSALEM – Israeli riot police clashed with hundreds of Palestinians at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound late Friday, capping a week of violence in the Holy City and the occupied West Bank.
Palestinians hurled stones, bottles and fireworks at police who fired rubber bullets and stun grenades in the disturbances at Islam’s third-holiest site, which is also revered by Jews as the location of two biblical-era temples.
At least 163 Palestinians and six Israeli police officers were reported wounded at Al-Aqsa and elsewhere in east Jerusalem, as the Palestinian Red Crescent said it had opened a field hospital because emergency rooms were full.
Israeli police said that because of the “rioting of thousands of worshippers” after evening prayers, security forces had to “restore order”.
Tensions in Jerusalem have soared in recent weeks as Palestinians have protested against Israel’s restrictions on access to parts of the Old City during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and after authorities ordered several Palestinian families to leave their homes to make way for Israeli settlers.
The United States called for “de-escalation” and said the threatened evictions could worsen the situation in east Jerusalem, as the United Nations warned the forced evictions could amount to “war crimes”.
Friday’s unrest came on Al-Quds (Jerusalem in Arabic) Day, an annual day of pro-Palestinian rallies held by Iran, the arch-enemy of Israel, which also saw many thousands march in majority-Muslim countries across the region and as far as Pakistan.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said that he held the Israeli government “responsible” for the unrest and voiced “full support for our heroes in Aqsa”.
The clashes erupted as Muslims packed the Al-Aqsa compound, to pray on the last Friday of Ramadan at the highly sensitive site. The second Palestinian intifada broke out in 2000 after a visit there by then right-wing Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon, seen as a painful provocation by Palestinians.
Week of violence
Earlier on Friday, Israeli security forces killed two Palestinians and wounded a third after the trio had opened fire on the Salem base in the occupied West Bank, police said.
Tamir Pero, spokesman of Israel’s border police, told AFP Palestinian attackers armed with rifles began running toward officers and shooting.
Officers “took cover behind concrete blocks and returned fire”, killing two attackers and critically wounding a third, he said.
Friday’s unrest follows days of bloody clashes and killings.
On Sunday, a 19-year-old Israeli was fatally wounded in a drive-by shooting at the Tapuah junction bus stop, in the West Bank.
Israeli security forces said they had arrested Montasser Shalabi, 44, near Ramallah, on suspicion of carrying out the attack. Palestinian sources said Shalabi is a dual US national.
On Wednesday, Israeli troops killed a 16-year-old Palestinian when they opened fire on protesters throwing petrol bombs, also in the West Bank.
In the east Jerusalem Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood near the Old City, a series of clashes have broken out in recent days between police and protesters, fuelled by a years-long land dispute between Palestinian refugees and Jewish settlers.
AFP correspondents said around 100 Palestinians again rallied Friday night in Sheikh Jarrah and that police used stun grenades and water cannon to disperse them.
The Red Crescent said many Palestinians were injured in Sheikh Jarrah and around the Damascus Gate, a key access point to the Old City, in clashes with Israeli forces.
Police said they made 26 arrests between Wednesday and Thursday, while the Red Crescent said 22 Palestinians were injured in Wednesday night clashes.
In Jordan – home to a large Palestinian population – hundreds rallied Friday, chanting “we will die for Sheikh Jarrah”.
Jordan administered the West Bank, including mostly Arab east Jerusalem, until the 1967 Six-Day War and remains the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.
Earlier this year, a Jerusalem district court ruled four Palestinian homes in Sheikh Jarrah legally belonged to Jewish families.
The Jewish plaintiffs claimed their families lost the land during the war that accompanied Israel’s creation in 1948, a conflict that also saw hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced from their homes.
The Sheikh Jarrah families have provided evidence that their homes were acquired from Jordanian authorities, who controlled east Jerusalem from 1948 to 1967.
Israel’s Supreme Court is to hold a new hearing in the case on Monday.