Video on social media showed Israeli forces using tear gas and lightning grenades at the holy site to break up a crowd of men – some in masks – who threw stones and furniture. Doctors said 117 people were injured, according to the Associated Press.
An Israeli police official said in a radio interview that only a few of the estimated 12,000 worshipers were involved, including some who threw stones at Jews praying at the adjacent Western Wall. Some remained barricaded in the mosque, he said.
Violence at the same holy site a year ago, when Israeli police entered the mosque to fight protesters, led to a two-week air strike in the nearby Gaza Strip. Officials are trying to ward off yet another escalation during a convergence of religious holidays that bring worshipers to Jerusalem: Ramadan, Passover and Passover.
Israel said it would prevent Palestinians from entering the West Bank from Friday afternoon to Saturday. The army said it was deploying additional forces to the West Bank, where it has stepped up operations against suspected militants.
The Palestinians killed in Thursday’s raids included two young men from the Jenin area, a poor hotbed of political and militant activity in the northern occupied territories.
The area has been the target of intensified Israeli arrest raids and financial restrictions since April 7, when Raed Hazem, a 28-year-old accountant from the Jenin refugee camp, shot dead three people at a bar on Tel Aviv’s bustling Dizengoff Street. Hazem was killed in an exchange of gunfire with Israeli security forces after a nine-hour manhunt overnight.
The wave of violence comes as the Israeli government faces the prospect of a new election after losing its fragile parliamentary majority, and as peace talks between Israel and the far-unpopular Palestinian leadership remain dying.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett swore “to eradicate this terrorism” and called on Israeli civilians with weapons licenses to carry weapons with them in public.
The shooting in Tel Aviv followed three other attacks, carried out by Palestinians from the West Bank and from Israel, which left 13 people dead. Since last month, Israel has doubled the number of battalions to reinforce troops in the West Bank as well as along Israel’s borders with the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Israeli forces have combed West Bank towns and villages in search of suspects or accomplices in connection with recent Palestinian attacks. In Israel, security forces questioned dozens of Palestinian citizens in Israel on suspicion of links to the militant group Islamic State, after a Palestinian armed man, convicted of trying to join Islamic State fighters in Syria, late killed two people in northern Israel by Hadera. March.
Days earlier, another Palestinian national of Israel, who had been detained in Turkey in 2015 for trying to cross the Syrian border, ran into three people and hit another person with his car.
Among those killed in the Jenin area over the past 24 hours was the brother of Ayman Kamaji, one of the Palestinian prisoners who escaped the Gilboa prison in northern Israel last year and was later captured after a nationwide manhunt.
Four other Palestinians were killed during operations Wednesday night near the West Bank cities of Ramallah, Nablus and Bethlehem, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
Amin Khazem, an uncle of Raed Hazem, said Raed told the family he would break the Ramadan fast in Jaffa. His family saw the first news without knowing that Raed was the shooter. Around 6 p.m., Raed’s father began calling family members to confirm that his son was dead. Israeli soldiers looted the family’s home the following day, but Raed’s parents and siblings had gone into hiding.
Khazem said he was shocked that his nephew was the armed man, but was not surprised that anger was boiling around in the West Bank.
Because of the Israeli occupation “there is pressure and pressure and pressure and then suddenly an explosion,” he said. Almost all those killed in Jenin in recent weeks have been 30 years or younger, and they have only lived in the period after the Oslo peace agreement.
The highway of hope and heartache
The faces of some of the dead have appeared on posters set up by al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of the ruling Fatah party. Khazem said some of the dead were not affiliated with the group, but that including them was a way for the faction to save face at a time when there is deep dissatisfaction with the Palestinian political system in the West Bank.
“Everyone buys weapons and bullets on their own,” a relative told Raed, who refused to give his name because he is wanted by Israeli security forces. On the passenger seat of his car was an M-16 rifle with the insignia of an Israeli army.
Earlier Thursday, violent clashes erupted in the West Bank city of Nablus after Palestinians threw Israeli armored vehicles escorted by a worker repairing Joseph’s Tomb, a holy Jewish site in the city, which Palestinians vandalized last weekend, according to Israel’s foreign ministry. The Israeli military announced that from kl. 4pm to midnight Friday – as Jewish Passover begins – will enforce a general shutdown in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. People will not be allowed to enter or leave, except in special humanitarian cases.
Israeli intelligence services have been preparing for an increase in violence during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which for the first time in years converges with Easter and Easter.
Following the attack in Tel Aviv last week, police raised the alarm level to the highest since May last year, when bloody Palestinian-Israeli clashes around and near the al-Aqsa Mosque, a historic hotspot in Jerusalem, triggered an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The war was accompanied by deadly inter-municipal street fighting and bloody confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers across the West Bank.
Why many Israelis living near Gaza opposed the ceasefire
“We are going into oblivion – only God knows what will come out of this,” said Hussein Zakarna, a resident of Jenin, whose son Mohammad, 17, was killed by Israeli forces on Sunday.
The Israeli military said he was involved in today’s violence. But Zakarna said he had just a day earlier banned his son from joining others in the demonstrations against Israeli troops. He said his son was on his way home from work at a vegetable stall to break the Ramadan fast with the family.
“You’ve dead both ways,” Zakarna said.
Rubin reported from Tel Aviv. Steve Hendrix contributed from Jerusalem.