Clashes erupted this morning ahead of Islamic prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on the last Friday of the Muslim-observed month of Ramadan.
By Jonathan Hessen and Erin Viner
Israeli police said they were forced to intervene when hundreds of Palestinian rioters hurled rocks and launched firecrackers at the ancient compound, including in the direction of the Western Wall where Jewish worshippers pray.
“We will continue to act decisively against rioters and outlaws for public safety and security,” said a police statement.
Contrary to claims circulating on social media, order was restored when Israeli security forces applied crowd-dispersal measures; after which Muslim worshippers were once again granted free entry onto the Temple Mount.
Two of the riot’s instigators were arrested, according to Police Spokesperson’s Unit. The Palestinian Red Crescent reported that at least 42 Palestinians were injured in the early morning clashes at Islam’s third-holiest site.
Thousands of IDF and Border Police troops have been deployed throughout the Israeli capital ahead of Ramadan, typically an opportunity for Muslim riots that peak on the final Friday of the holiday. Ramadan ends next week and the final Friday of the fasting month often sees especially large crowds gather at Al-Aqsa.
There were almost daily confrontations this month between Palestinians and Jerusalem police at the gilded 7th-century Dome of the Rock and the 8th-century Al-Aqsa Mosque at a complex known as Haram al Sharif by Muslims, built on the ruins of both Biblical Temples. The compound is located atop the Old City plateau on the eastern side of Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War, annexed immediately afterward. Palestinians demand that sector serve as the capital of a state they seek to establish in the West Bank and Gaza.
The area is called Temple Mount by Israel, and considered by the Jewish People as the holiest site in the world, also revered to Christians. The compound is Islam’s third most sacred site after Mecca and Medina; and the Al-Aqsa Mosque area is the most sensitive site in the generations-old conflict. The clashes were particularly violent when Ramadan overlapped with the Jewish celebration of Passover, which brought hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Jews to the site.
Israeli officials blame the surge of clashes on Islamist terror groups, including the Hamas rulers of the Palestinian Gaza Strip, underscoring they have encouraged youths to stage riots aimed at stirring anger in the Muslim world against Israel.
There were no extraordinary security-related incidents on the Temple Mount in recent days, however; including highly sensitive Laylat al-Qadr (Arabic for the “Night of Power”) on Wednesday, when about 250,000 Muslim worshippers attended services at the plaza encircling the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Israeli leaders have repeatedly stressed that the Jewish State works to preserve the freedom of worship to all faiths.
Earlier this week, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said mournfully that, “Ramadan is supposed to be a holiday of prayer of family gatherings. To my regret there are those who hold rocks and Molotov cocktails instead of holy scriptures. Israel acts against them and in tandem enables freedom of worship.”