GAZA/JERUSALEM, April 5 (Reuters) – Israeli police entered the compound of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem before dawn on Wednesday and clashed with worshipers, in what police said was a response to riots that triggered a furious backlash in the West Bank and cross-border attacks. in Gaza.
The incident, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and on the eve of Passover, came amid fears that tensions built up over a year of escalating violence could erupt at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, where clashes in 2021 they unleashed a 10-day war with Gaza.
Overnight, at least nine rockets were fired from Gaza, prompting Israeli airstrikes, which hit what it said were Hamas training camps, setting off ground-shaking explosions heard across the blockaded coastal strip.
Witnesses said Israeli tanks also shelled Hamas positions along the border fence in the southern part of the Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said 12 Palestinians suffered injuries from rubber-tipped bullets and beatings in clashes with Israeli police. He added that Israeli forces were preventing his medics from reaching the area.
“In the courtyard of the eastern part of the compound, the police fired tear gas and stun grenades, it was a scene I cannot describe,” said Fahmi Abbas, a worshiper at the mosque. “Then they broke in and started beating everyone. They stopped people and put the youths face down on the ground while they continued to beat them.”
Israeli police said in a statement that security units were forced into the compound after what it called masked rioters barricaded themselves inside the mosque with fireworks, sticks and stones.
“As the police entered, a large group of rioters hurled stones at them and fired fireworks from inside the mosque,” the statement said, adding that a police officer was injured in the leg.
Thousands of worshipers have been spending the night in the mosque compound amid fears of possible clashes with Jewish visitors to the site, which they revere as the Temple Mount, the site of Judaism’s two ancient temples.
Videos circulating on social media, which Reuters could not immediately verify, showed fireworks and police beating people inside the mosque.
Palestinian lawyer Firas al-Jibrini said police had arrested about 500 people who were taken in for questioning.
The incident provoked a strong reaction from Arab countries. Jordan and Egypt, both involved in recent US-backed efforts to de-escalate tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, issued separate statements strongly condemning the incident, while Saudi Arabia, with whom Israel hopes to normalize ties, said the “assault ” from Israel to Al-Aqsa undermined peace efforts.
The Palestinian leadership condemned Israel’s attacks on worshipers, describing it as a crime.
“We warn the occupation not to cross the red lines at the holy sites, which will lead to a huge explosion,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The Israeli army said a soldier was shot during clashes with Palestinians in the West Bank town of Beit Ummar.
Over the past year, Israeli forces have made thousands of arrests in the West Bank and killed more than 250 Palestinians, while more than 40 Israelis and three Ukrainians have been killed in Palestinian attacks.
Israel captured East Jerusalem, including the Old City where the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex is located, in a 1967 war and later annexed it in a move not internationally recognized. It considers Jerusalem as its eternal and indivisible capital.
The Palestinians want East Jerusalem for the capital of an independent state which they seek in the West Bank and Gaza.
Reporting by Sinan Abu Mayzer, Ammar Awad, Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ali Sawafta; Additional reporting by Nisreen Salem; Written by Henriette Chacar; Edited by Stephen Coates
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