“Over the past week, a Hamas-led incitement campaign has been waged against Israel,” stated Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
By Jonathan Hessen and Erin Viner
The Israeli leader made the charge in the wake of e and outbreak of violent Palestinian clashes on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City during the convergence of the Jewish Passover, Christian Easter and Muslim Ramadan holidays.
“I view with utmost severity the remarks accusing Israel of the violence directed against us, and there are those who are encouraging rock-throwing and the use of violence against the citizens of the State of Israel. his is unacceptable to us. This is a reward for the inciters, especially Hamas, which are trying to ignite violence in Jerusalem,” said Bennett in a video statement, underscoring, “We will not allow this to happen. The State of Israel will continue to provide for and safeguard the dignity of all of us, to enable everyone to celebrate in Jerusalem, and – most of all – our forces will continue to provide security for the citizens of the State of Israel.”
Despite stern condemnation from Islamist groups as well as neighboring Jordan over Israel’s handling of the violence, Bennett insisted: “Here’s the truth: Israel is doing everything so that all peoples, as always, can celebrate the holidays safely – Jews, Muslims and Christians. We expect everyone not to join the lies and certainly not to encourage violence against Jews. The State of Israel will continue to keep our capital, Jerusalem, open to all.”
Israel’s Israel’s Iron Dome Aerial Defense System successfully intercepted an incoming missile from Gaza Monday night, with no reported injuries or damage.
While no organization claimed responsibility for the rocket-fire, which shattered months of relative quiet, the attack emanated from an area controlled by the Iranian-proxy Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror group. Seeking to capitalize on the incident, the founder and commander of Hamas’ Izz-al-Din al-Qassam Brigades Military Wing, Saleh al-Aruri nevertheless proclaimed his group’s intent to “fight in all of our battles for Jerusalem and al-Aqsa” in reference to the mosque built on top of the two Biblical Temples holy to Christians and Jews.
Even though Israel is not interested in escalating hostilities on its southern front, it holds the Hamas terrorist organization responsible for all terror activity emanating from the Gaza Strip. IDF fighter jets retaliated for the rocket attack by launching air strikes on a Hamas weapons manufacturing site in the lawless Palestinian enclave and warned of additional consequences for any further violations of Israeli sovereignty. During the aerial operation Hamas fired a SAM-7 surface-to-air missile at the Israeli aircraft, which easily evaded the outdated Russian-manufactured shoulder-fired projectile. IDF officials noted that necessary precautionary measures were implemented that even though the low-altitude system does not constitute a threat to Israeli planes.
The latest tensions in the south follow the outbreak of severe clashes in Jerusalem on Friday morning, when hundreds of Palestinian youths hurled rocks at Jewish worshippers at the adjacent Western Wall below the at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Israeli police entered the compound after scores of violent rioters, who launched fireworks and threw rocks at security forces, barricaded themselves inside the mosque after ignoring orders to vacate the Temple Mount. Eight Israeli officers sustained light injuries during the mission.
The plaza was re-opened following the restoration of calm and shortly before Islamic mid-day prayers on Friday and Saturday. Despite earlier pleas from the Jordanian Islamic Waqf that administers the site for the protestors to leave the site peacefully, Al-Aqsa Mosque Director Sheikh Omar Al-Kiswani later accused Israel of “oppression” and “barbarism” for “suppressing” the worshippers.
Violence erupted again on Sunday ahead of today’s annual scheduled tour of the compound by Jewish worshippers during the Passover Festival. It should be noted that Jews and Christians are forbidden to pray at the ancient site in accordance with Israel’s vow to uphold the so-called “Status Quo” that existed prior to the country’s assertion of sovereignty in 1967. Riot police utilized crowd dispersal means and apprehended the instigators to once again restore calm to the area.
A number of Islamist Palestinians barricaded themselves within the Al-Aqsa Mosque again this morning and hurled rocks and firebombs from an upper window of the structure during the visit by several hundred Jews, who were kept at a safe distance away. No injuries were reported and relative calm was restored after the tour.
Israeli leaders had sought to ensure calm during Muslim observance of Ramadan by holding advance talks with Jordanian King Abdullah II. Despite these attempts, condemnation was quick to follow from Amman.
During a telephone conversation with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday, the Jordanian Monarch insisted that Israel’s “unilateral” moves against Muslim worshippers at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque seriously undermined the prospects for peace in the region, and further blamed Israel for “provocative acts” in the mosque compound that (according to him) violated “the legal and historic status quo” at what he referred to as “the Muslim holy shrines.”
Jordanian Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh, a perceived moderate who openly supports the peace treaty with Israel, used a parliamentary address to deliver a scathing attack on the Jewish State. He praised “every Palestinian and Jordanian Islamic Waqf workers who stand tall like a turret and those who throw rocks at Zionists who desecrate Al Aqsa Mosque with the protection of the Israeli occupation government,” and went on to assert that “the most dangerous time was two days ago when we found out that there was an attempt to change the status quo and divide Haram Al-Sharif (the Arabic name for the Temple Mount) into separate spaces and hours (for Muslims and Jews).”
The Jordanian Foreign Ministry also summoned Israel’s Charge d’Affairs to voice protest about its handling of the situation.
The United States State Department Spokesperson Ned Price released a statement expressing “deep concern” over “the recent violence in Jerusalem on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and across the West Bank.” He said that Washington continues to “call on all sides to exercise restraint, to avoid provocative actions and rhetoric, and preserve the historic status quo on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount,” while urging “Israeli and Palestinian officials to work cooperatively to lower tensions and ensure the safety of everyone.”
Price also said that the State Department “continues to closely follow the situation and continues to be in close contact with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials to seek to de-escalate tensions,” including “a series of phone calls” among “senior officials” and US “ambassadors in capitals across the Middle East” with their “Israeli partners,” “Palestinian counterparts,” “Arab representatives in the region, including our Jordanian partners, the custodian of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, in an effort to see to it that these tensions do not escalate.”
The State Department Spokesperson said that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday “regarding increased tensions and recent violence in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, including at Jerusalem’s Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount,” in which he “emphasized the importance of Palestinians and Israelis working to end the cycle of violence by refraining from actions and rhetoric that escalate tensions.” Secretary Blinken “also reiterated the U.S. commitment to improving the quality of life of the Palestinian people in tangible ways and America’s support for a negotiated Two-State solution” to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, said Price.
Additionally, Secretary Blinken also held separate telephone conversations with his counterparts in Jerusalem and Amman.
While speaking with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, Washington’s top diplomat highlighted, “the importance of Israelis and Palestinians working to end the cycle of violence by refraining from actions and rhetoric that further escalate tensions.” He also emphasized the importance of upholding the status quo at the Temple Mount and voiced appreciation for the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’s special role as custodian of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem.
During his call with Washington’s top diplomat, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid provided an update about “Israel’s efforts to ensure freedom of worship to followers of the three religions in Jerusalem,” said a Foreign Ministry statement.
Lapid, who also serves as Israel’s Alternate Premier, also “emphasized Israel’s responsible and measured efforts in the face of riots by hundreds of Islamic extremists on the Temple Mount, as well as falsehoods and disinformation spread by extremists which are fanning the flames of violence instead of bringing about calm.”
Moreover, he underscored to the Secretary of State that” Israel is not willing to tolerate calls in support of violence and emphasized the need for international support for returning calm to Jerusalem,” said the statement.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog spoke by telephone with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last night to discuss the situation. According to a statement from his office, President Herzog stressed that in contrast to false news reports, Israel takes great care to preserve the status quo and religious freedom for all, especially at the current time so all groups can safely celebrate their holidays. Erdoğan subsequently released a statement on his Twitter account noting that he voiced deep concern to his Israeli counterpart about Palestinian casualties particularly during Ramadan, which he wrote, “hurt the conscience and cause justifiable reactions in the entire Islamic world.”
For the time being, tensions continue to run high in Jerusalem, the West Bank districts of Judea and Samaria, as well as on Israel’s southern front with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Police maintained the heightened state of alert in and around Jerusalem’s Temple Mount earlier today; as several thousands of Jewish worshipers gathered at the Western Wall for the triannual Birkat Ha-Cohanim “Priestly Blessing.” The ceremony concluded absent extraordinary security-related incidents.
Initial signs of de-escalation by Palestinian and Jordanian political leaders in response to international mediation efforts by Egypt and the US has been reported.
The Palestinian Authority’s dominated Fatah Faction, whose activists in Jerusalem were reportedly responsible for the initial violence on the Temple Mount, received messages from Ramallah that they should cease aggravating prevailing tensions. And while Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip held an emergency meeting during which they were instructed to fall in line with the policy of the Islamist Hamas organization; a joint threat was directed at Israel to avoid escalating the situation in Jerusalem.
Separately, Jordanian Prime Minister Khasawneh was reportedly reprimanded by the royal palace for overstepping his mandate.
Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz declared during a visit to the headquarters of the Border Police Yamam Special Operations Unit in the Judea and Samaria that cooperation between the IDF, Border Police and defense establishment at large is “excellent,” and “critical” for providing security to the nation’s citizens.
“All our forces are deployed in the different sectors to protect Israel’s citizens and enable freedom of worship,” he said, adding that he has informed regional leaders that while Israel will continue to protect the status quo on the Temple Mount, “we will not permit terrorists or provocateurs to harm those holy places.”
Jerusalem’s top defense official continued by warning the Islamist organizations in the Gaza Strip not to test Israel’s resolve.
“The IDF is prepared with a wide array of tools and targets to ensure that calm and stability endure. If incitement and fire continue, the terror groups will be critically harmed, and also Gazan residents who are presently enjoying measures that we have implemented to develop their economy by granting work (permits) in Israel. These measures will be expanded if stability persists or, God forbid, we will retract those if Hamas’s leadership decide to harm them,” he said.