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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Jerusalem Calms After Israeli-Palestinian Clashes at Holy Site

Jerusalem Calms After Israeli-Palestinian Clashes at Holy Site

Violence broke out at the Aqsa Mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, in the morning on the first day of a rare convergence of Ramadan, Easter and Passover.
More than 150 people were injured on Friday at one of Jerusalem’s holiest sites after clashes erupted between Israeli riot police and Palestinians, adding to weeks of escalating tensions in Israel and the occupied West Bank and raising fears of further conflagrations in the coming days.

Palestinians threw stones at the police, who stormed parts of the mosque compound, fired sound grenades and rubber bullets and arrested more than 400 people. But by midday on Friday, the first day of a rare convergence of Ramadan, Passover and Easter, calm had returned to the Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City, known to Jews as the Temple Mount — a complex that is sacred to both religions.

The violence followed a recent wave of Palestinian attacks on Israelis and deadly Israeli raids in the occupied West Bank. Tensions and clashes around the same compound played a central role in the buildup to an 11-day war last May between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.

Over the past month, violence has escalated across Israel and the occupied territories with four Arab attacks that killed 14 people in Israel. That prompted the Israeli military to step up raids in the occupied West Bank that have left at least 15 Palestinians dead. Israel said that the raids were aimed at preventing and deterring further attacks, but Palestinians denounced them as a collective punishment.

The violence on Friday also threatened the already shaky Israeli government. A lawmaker from a small Islamist party that is part of the governing coalition said he might consider resigning if police activity at the Aqsa Mosque compound did not stop.

Palestinian authorities strongly condemned the storming of the compound by the Israeli police.

“The expulsion of the worshipers by force, repression and batons in preparation for the incursions of the Jewish extremists will ignite the fire of the religious war for which the Palestinians alone will not pay the price,” the Palestinian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Yair Lapid, the Israeli foreign minister, said that his country was committed to freedom of worship for people of all faiths in Jerusalem.

“Our goal is to enable peaceful prayer for believers during the Ramadan holiday,” he said in a statement. “The riots this morning on the Temple Mount are unacceptable and go against the spirit of the religions we believe in.”

One of the holiest structures in Islam, the mosque is on a site that is part of the Old City of Jerusalem, important to Christians, Jews and Muslims. The compound is administered by an Islamic trust known as the Waqf, which coordinates with the Israeli security forces present on the site.

Christians and Jews are allowed to visit the site, and Israeli officials have become increasingly lenient about Jews quietly praying on the mount during morning visiting hours Sunday-Thursday. There had been expectations for weeks that tensions would rise around the confluence of Ramadan, Passover and Easter, the first since 1991.

In recent days the police have arrested several Jewish activists who were suspected of planning to make the more visible gesture of an animal sacrifice. On Friday morning, they stopped a Jewish man carrying a goat near the mosque. The goat was confiscated.

Rumors had spread on Palestinian social media that Jewish hard-liners would breach the Aqsa Mosque this weekend, leading to calls for Palestinians to defend the area.

The confrontation on Friday began at about 5:30 a.m. and lasted for more than three hours. Tens of thousands of Muslim worshipers had gathered at the compound for dawn prayers on the second Friday of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. Both sides said the other set off the violence.

The police said the melee at the compound began after Palestinians collected stones, wooden planks and other large objects before the Muslim dawn prayer began and also set off fireworks. Officers entered the compound only after the prayer was over and the crowds had begun to throw stones in the direction of the Western Wall below, a Jewish holy site where worshipers had also gathered to pray, according to the police.

The officers responded by firing rubber-tipped bullets, tear gas and stun grenades at the Palestinian stone throwers.

However some Palestinian witnesses gave conflicting accounts of how the troubles started. They said that the Israeli police moved deeper into the compound as the call to prayer sounded, a few minutes before the prayers began, which the Palestinians viewed as a provocation. They said the police had fired the first shot.

The police expelled many of the worshipers, in some cases shoving them and hitting them with batons, but some returned afterward.

Another video showed police officers inside the mosque, some pointing their weapons at the Palestinians sitting on the floor while another held a stash of white zip-ties in his hand. Another video showed rows of men laying on their stomachs, their hands tied behind their backs with the zip-ties.

A Palestinian prisoner’s rights group said more than 450 people were arrested by the police. They face charges of throwing stones, firing fireworks, assaulting police officers, violent fortification, violent rioting and disturbing public order, according to the police.

A few hours later, the midday Muslim prayer passed without incident.

But the fighting could have far-reaching consequences for the government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Mazen Ghanaim, a member of the Raam, an Islamist party that is the smallest member of the governing coalition, said he might resign from the coalition if police activity at the mosque did not stop.

Such a move would reduce the number of lawmakers loyal to the government in the 120-seat Israeli Parliament to 59, giving the opposition a wafer-thin majority, potentially allowing it to dissolve Parliament and hold new elections.

Mr. Bennett lost his majority last week after a right-wing lawmaker from his own party defected, saying that the government needed to do more to protect Israel’s Jewish identity.

The violence compounded several weeks of rising tensions across Israel and the occupied territories, in which more than 30 Israelis, Palestinians and foreigners have died in the deadliest wave of violence, outside of a full-scale war, for several years.

The escalation began on March 22, when a member of Israel’s Arab minority stabbed and rammed to death four Israelis in the south of the country. Days later, two more Arab citizens of Israel shot dead two Israeli police officers in Hadera, a northern city. All three attackers had links to the Islamic State, and were later fatally shot themselves.

More attacks followed and prompted the Israeli military to increase the intensity of its raids in the West Bank. At least 15 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since the crackdown began.

Israeli officials said that most of those Palestinians were militants who had been involved in attacks or were planning new ones. But the casualties included an unarmed woman who the Israeli Army said was shot after she failed to stop when they fired warning rounds and a rights lawyer who was caught in a shootout during an Israeli raid.

The Israeli police blamed Palestinians for setting off violent clashes at a Jerusalem holy site on Friday, but some Palestinian witnesses accused the Israelis of firing the first shot.

The police said the melee at the Aqsa Mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, began after Palestinians collected stones, wooden planks and other large objects before the Muslim dawn prayer began and also set off fireworks. Officers entered the compound only after the prayer was over and the crowds had begun to throw stones in the direction of the Western Wall below, a Jewish holy site where worshipers had also gathered to pray, according to the police.

The officers responded by firing rubber-tipped bullets, tear gas and stun grenades at the Palestinian stone throwers.

However some Palestinian witnesses gave conflicting accounts of how the troubles started. They said that the Israeli police entered the compound as the call to prayer sounded, a few minutes before the prayers began, and the Palestinians viewed as a provocation. They said the police had fired the first shot.

The police expelled many of the worshipers, in some cases shoving them and hitting them with batons, but some returned afterward.

Video posted on social media showed men carrying Palestinian flags, throwing stones and using wooden planks as shields. Other videos showed police officers kicking a paramedic and a cameraman as they were lying on the ground, in separate incidents. The paramedic was later carried away on a stretcher.

Witnesses said that some Palestinians had barricaded themselves in one of the mosques on the compound and that others outside the doors had thrown rocks at the police.

“Your eyes, protect your eyes,” one woman shouted as officers opened fired.

Witnesses said police swept through the courtyard of the compound, firing sound grenades and using force to corral them toward the exits.

“Don’t leave, don’t leave,” one woman pleaded with the surge of people fleeing. “Emptying Aqsa is a victory for the occupation. People, sit and stay in solidarity they won’t kick us out against our will.”

Some heeded her call and sat next to her. But moments later, Israeli police descended upon the small sit-in and grabbed their arms, dragging them onto their feet and pushing them away.

The police were shouting orders in Hebrew, a language many Palestinians don’t speak or understand. “Speak Arabic,” one man yelled back.

The police said that they were working to protect peaceful worshipers and that the mosque would reopen for prayer later in the day.

Muslim midday prayers at one of Jerusalem’s holiest sites passed calmly for the most part on Friday after an earlier eruption of clashes there that lasted for hours.

After the sermon and prayer ended at the Aqsa Mosque, worshipers gathered and chanted, “With our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice for Aqsa,” before they dispersed.

Israeli police officers stood on the roof of a building on the edge of the compound, overlooking it. They briefly fired a few rounds of rubber bullets as Palestinian young men threw rocks toward them. But many of the worshipers did not seem to want a repeat of the morning’s violence.

Workers with the Islamic trust known as the Waqf, which administers the Aqsa Mosque compound, tried to keep the calm.

Dressed in blue-and-black vests, they ran toward the young men throwing rocks and grabbed them, dragging them away and yelling at them to stop.

“Everybody go worship,” one of the workers yelled. “If you came to worship, go worship.”

The Palestinian men dispersed, but minutes later, a few returned, picking up some stones from a pile and throwing them toward the police.

Suddenly, a man in a brown cowboy hat rushed toward them. “Enough,” he yelled.

“If you love the prophet, go,” he added.

The Israeli police said they had arrested more than 400 Palestinians on Friday at the Aqsa Mosque compound after an eruption of clashes between riot police firing sound grenades and rubber bullets and Palestinian stone throwers.

A Palestinian prisoner’s rights group put the number of arrests at 450 following the confrontations, which lasted for more than three hours. The arrests came after police expelled some of the tens of thousands of worshipers who had gathered for Friday dawn prayers during the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

Several hundred Palestinians had barricaded themselves inside the Aqsa Mosque while outside the mosque door, Israeli riot police clashed with Palestinians, according to Jamal Karame, 53, a witness who was inside the mosque at the time.

Once the rest of the mosque complex had been cleared, police stormed the mosque through a side door that leads to an emergency clinic, Mr. Karame said. They entered the prayer area inside the mosque — where footwear is forbidden — with their shoes on, he added, something that Muslims find offensive.

The police officers began rounding up all young men but some of them tried to hide among the older worshipers such as himself, he said.

A video posted online showed police inside the mosque, some pointing their weapons at the Palestinians sitting on the floor while another held a stash of white zip-ties in his hand. Another video showed rows of men laying on their stomachs, their hands tied behind their backs with the zip-ties.

The police said that rioters had barricaded themselves inside the mosque and from there, they threw stones at the police officers outside. The police also said that they had found large quantities of stones and fireworks inside the mosque.

Those arrested were charged with throwing stones, firing fireworks, assaulting police officers, violent fortification, violent rioting and disturbing public order, according to the police.

JERUSALEM — On Friday morning, as clashes broke out at the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City, Muslims were fasting for the 14th day of Ramadan. A few hundred yards away, Jews were burning leavened bread, a traditional ceremony just before Passover, which starts on Friday evening.

And nearby, Christians were beginning processions through the Old City, hoisting wooden crosses aloft and retracing the route that they believe Jesus Christ took before his crucifixion.

The festivals of Passover, Easter and Ramadan overlapped on Friday for the first time since 1991 — intensifying both the religious synergies and tensions that have defined Jerusalem for millenniums.

To some, the overlap embodies the wonder of Jerusalem, and the veneer of coexistence between its peoples. To others, it highlights the incompatibilities and inequities among them. To many more, it illustrates both.

“Jerusalem right now is a symphony of people reaching out to God,” said Barnea Selevan, a rabbi and teacher who had just finished burning his family’s remaining leavened bread. “The whole city is focused on God.”

Mustafa Abu Swai, a professor of Islamic thought who had just returned from the mosque, had a different take.

“Jerusalem is like a salad bowl,” he said. “You have intact tomatoes and intact cucumbers and intact lettuce leaves. You don’t have a salad.”

To Serene Bathish, a Christian scout leader who helped lead the Easter Friday procession through the Old City, the convergence hardly illustrates an easy coexistence, with Christians under pressure from both Jews and Muslims in different ways.

“We are like a potato mashed between everyone,” Ms. Bathish said. “On the inside, it’s very tiring, time-consuming, difficult, chaotic, insecure.”

JERUSALEM — The violence on Friday in the Old City of Jerusalem compounded several weeks of rising tensions across Israel and the occupied territories, in which more than 30 Israelis, Palestinians and foreigners have died in the deadliest wave of violence, outside of a full-scale war, for several years.

The escalation began on March 22, when a member of Israel’s Arab minority stabbed and rammed to death four Israelis in the south of the country. Days later, two more Arab citizens of Israel shot dead two Israeli police officers in Hadera, a northern city. All three attackers had links to the Islamic State, and were later shot dead themselves.

A Palestinian from the occupied West Bank then shot dead three Israelis and two Ukrainians in Bnei Brak, a city just east of Tel Aviv. Last week, a second Palestinian from the same region in the West Bank shot dead three Israelis at a bar in Tel Aviv. Neither attacker had formal affiliations with any Palestinian faction, and they were both shot dead by the police.

The attacks prompted the Israeli military to increase the intensity of its raids in the West Bank, particularly in the area of the city of Jenin, where the two Palestinian attackers came from.

At least 15 Palestinians have been shot dead by Israeli forces since the crackdown began.

Israeli officials said that most of those Palestinians were militants who had been involved in attacks or were planning new ones. But the casualties included an unarmed woman who the Israeli Army said was shot after she failed to stop when they fired warning rounds and a rights lawyer who was caught in a shootout during an Israeli raid.

Israelis largely see the Palestinian attacks as a result of years of incitement by Palestinian leaders and influencers against Israelis. Israeli officials also consider the ensuing raids in the West Bank as an essential means of preventing and deterring further attacks.

Many Palestinians see the attacks in Israel as an inevitable outcome of the entrenchment of Israel’s 55-year occupation of the West Bank. They consider Israel’s countermeasures in the West Bank to be a form of collective punishment.
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