Clashes broke out between Palestinians and Israeli police at Temple Mount early Friday morning as rising tensions, threats of terror and observance of major holidays all gather around the holy site with the flashpoint.
Clashes between police and worshipers at the scene were reported around noon. 06.30, where officers entered the area and collided with people who were barricaded inside.
Police said in a statement that around 4 p.m., dozens of young people began marching in the area with flags from both the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terrorist group.
The marchers threw stones and fireworks while storing stones and other objects to prepare for further clashes, according to police.
Police said they were waiting for the morning prayer to end before entering Temple Mount to disperse the rioters, and that some of them threw stones at the Western Wall below.
According to police, some Palestinians barricaded themselves inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque, from which they threw stones at the officers. The police statement said the riots prevented prayers in the mosque and “thus harmed a large number of Muslims” seeking to worship there.
Police said three officers were slightly injured after being stoned, two of whom required medical attention.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Emergency Response Team reported that 67 people were injured in the clashes.
Police released video from the scene.
The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement clarifying that officers did not enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism.
“Masked men throw stones and fire fireworks and desecrate the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” it said. “Contrary to FAKE reports, police forces did NOT enter the mosque.”
Masked men throw stones and fire fireworks and desecrate the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Contrary to FAKE reports, police forces did NOT enter the mosque. pic.twitter.com/IaXnXbcDts
– Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel (@IsraelMFA) April 15, 2022
Fears of violence were already sky high before Friday morning matches.
This Friday is the second during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the first night of Judaism’s week-long Easter holiday and Good Friday, when Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
At the same time, a series of deadly terrorist attacks in Israel in recent weeks have killed 14 and toppled Israel. The attacks have prompted countermeasures by Israeli security forces across the West Bank, including arrests that have led to violence.
Hamas on Thursday called for an escalation against Israel and called on “hundreds of thousands” to attend Friday prayers in Jerusalem, further reinforcing fears of conflict.
Thousands of police officers and hundreds of soldiers have been sent to the capital to increase security on streets and crowded places. Security forces have warned of attempts to carry out further attacks and have been working to close gaps in the separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank.
The Border Police’s operations manager, Oded Aflalo, told Ynet on Thursday that the force’s troops were on high alert.
“Today is the day when we are at our peak of preparations for Seder night, combined with prayers on Friday for Ramadan,” he said, referring to the traditional dinner on the first day of Easter. “All sorts of scenarios are on the table, from the level of a threatening person to a terrorist cell from a terrorist organization.”
He said border police were working to find Palestinians already illegal in Israel.
A senior police official told Ynet that additional officers will guard train stations and bus stops, which are expected to be packed with travelers and soldiers returning home from the base. The police official also said that there will be increased security at hotels and other places that will host large Seder dinners.
The security forces of the Palestinian Authority are cooperating with their Israeli counterparts, and most of the Palestinian public is not expected to take to the streets, Channel 12 reported.
A senior security official told Channel 12 that an outbreak of violence could drag Israel into yet another round of Gaza fighting like last year’s war with Hamas.
“If there is an escalation tomorrow and there are casualties, we can get to Operation Guardian of the Walls round two,” he said, referring to the 2021 conflict.
Ramadan is typically a period of high tension as tens of thousands of worshipers, including many Palestinians in the West Bank, attend worship services at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is located on top of the Temple Mount. The place is the holiest place of Judaism and the mosque is the third holiest of Islam.
The site is the emotional epicenter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and tensions that could easily snowball into wider fires. Hamas and other Gaza-based terrorist groups have repeatedly invoked the holy site of the flashpoint as a red line. Police actions to stem riots that last year helped trigger the 11-day war in Gaza in May.
This week, a group of Jewish extremists sent tensions into the air by publicly encouraging ritual sacrifices for Easter on Temple Mount. Jews are allowed to visit the area but not pray or perform religious rituals as part of a delicate status quo.
The extremist group Returning to the Mount, which is in favor of the construction of a third Jewish temple on the site that once housed the two biblical temples, announced on Facebook on Monday that they would offer a cash prize to those who manage to sacrifice a lamb on Temple Mount, and to any detainee who attempted to do so.
A small group of Jewish extremists have occasionally sought to perform the biblical Passover sacrifice on Temple Mount. Police have regularly detained the perpetrators, who do not appear to have brought a victim to the scene in recent years.
This year’s potential victims’ campaign has gained enormous ground in the Palestinian and Arab media following the social media coverage, which diverted threats from Hamas and condemnation from Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. The Israeli authorities promised to stop any attempt to bring sacrificial animals to the complex, as they have done for years in the past.
On Thursday, Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza said in a joint statement: “We declare a general mobilization wherever our people are. We urge the masses to come out in the hundreds of thousands to protect our nation and our mosque.”
“We urge our people to march and go out in the hundreds of thousands to hold Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa,” the groups said.
Six Jews were arrested Thursday morning after police suspected they were planning to sacrifice a goat on Temple Mount ahead of Easter.
Israel has conveyed messages to Hamas that the Israeli authorities will not allow Jewish extremists to keep victims on the Temple Mount, Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri told the Hamas media.
Al-Arouri said Hamas did not trust Israel’s assurances and that the terrorist group was preparing to respond to attempts to “infect Al-Aqsa.”
Tens of thousands were already expected to attend Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa. Most of the Ramadan worshipers will cross into Israel without permits, part of a policy to loosen normally tight Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement during the holiday. Participation of Palestinians in the West Bank is limited to women, children and men over 50, according to Ministry of Defense orders issued earlier this month.
Allowing thousands of Palestinians poses a clear security risk to Israel, but cracking down on worshipers during Ramadan could trigger an outbreak of violence.
In addition to the holiday friction, Israeli troops have carried out extensive raids in the West Bank following the deadliest outbreak of terror in Israel for years. The raids have led to violent protests in several communities in the West Bank.
At least 16 Palestinians have been killed in clashes with the IDF alone within the past two weeks, including a 17-year-old who died Friday morning from wounds sustained the day before.
A total of 18 suspects were arrested in the West Bank in the past few days, the IDF said Thursday.