Rocket sirens sound in Israel amid clashes with worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque

Jerusalem: Israeli police have raided al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City and “attacked Palestinian worshippers”, Palestinian media reported, raising fears of wider tension as Islamic and Jewish holidays overlap.

Israeli police said the operation in the early hours of Wednesday was a response to rioting.

The Palestinian Red Crescent reported injuries but did not elaborate on how many people were hurt. It said in a statement that Israeli forces were preventing its medics from reaching the mosque.

“I was sitting on a chair reciting [the Koran],” an elderly woman told Reuters while sitting outside the mosque, struggling to catch her breath. “They hurled stun grenades, one of them hit my chest,” she said as she began to cry.

Israeli police deploy in the Old City of Jerusalem following reports of shots fired in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Saturday.Credit:AP

Israeli police said in a statement that it was forced to enter the compound after “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 volunteers clean outside the Dome of the Rock in the al-Aqsa mosque compound last month.Credit:AP

Tension has already been high in east Jerusalem and the West Bank for months, and fears of further violence were fuelled with the convergence of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan and the Jewish 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.

Videos on social media purportedly showed Israeli police officers beating Palestinians with batons and rifle butts at the mosque in the contested hilltop site revered by both Muslims and Jews.

The official Palestinian news agency, Wafa, reported that dozens of worshippers, who spent the night in Ramadan prayers, were injured.

It was not immediately clear what sparked the violence. Israeli news site Haaretz reported several hundred Ramadan worshippers had “barricaded themselves” in the mosque and police had used stun grenades to clear it.

Police said dozens of “rioters” were arrested.

The Israeli military said sirens warning of incoming rockets sounded in Israeli communities around the Gaza Strip.

The violence in Jerusalem triggered a wave protests and condemnations from Palestinians. In Gaza, Hamas called for large protests and people started gathering in the streets, with calls to head for the heavily guarded Gaza-Israel frontier for more violent demonstrations.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry called for an immediate halt to Israel’s “blatant assault on worshippers at the mosque. Jordan’s Foreign Ministry condemned what it said was Israel’s “flagrant” storming of the compound.

Earlier on Tuesday, a Palestinian suspect stabbed two Israelis near an army base south of Tel Aviv, police said, in the latest incident in a year-long spate of violence that shows no sign of abating.

Israel’s Magen David Adom paramedic service said first responders treated two men for serious and light stab wounds in the incident on a highway near the Tzrifin military base. The men were taken to a nearby hospital for treatment.

Israeli media identified the two victims as soldiers.

Police said that civilians at the scene apprehended the suspected attacker, who was taken into police custody for questioning.

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.

AP, Reuters

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