Jerusalem, Unidentified: Violent clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians again rocked Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound Monday, leaving at least 300 wounded after days of escalating violence.
However, fears of more chaos in the Old City were allayed when organisers of a march to commemorate Israel’s 1967 capture of east Jerusalem called off the event due to police restrictions.
At the same time, Hamas, an Islamist movement, warned Israel that unless it withdraws its forces from Al-Aqsa and a nearby east Jerusalem neighborhood, it would face escalation.
“You have been warned,” said a spokesman for the movement which controls the Gaza Strip, also demanding the released all those arrested in recent days.
Hamas has fired several rockets towards Israel in recent days, some intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defence system, while militants in Gaza have deployed incendiary balloons that have sparked dozens of fires in Israeli territory.
Following a “situational assessment,” Israel’s army announced widespread road closures in communities near the Gaza border, and two municipalities near Gaza, Ashkelon and Kyriat Malachi, confirmed that their bomb shelters had been opened.
Palestinians threw rocks at Israeli officers in riot gear who fired rubber bullets, stun grenades, and tear gas during Monday’s clashes, as they had done the previous nights since Friday.
Loud booms and angry screams echoed from the ancient stone walls of the compound, where Palestinians built makeshift barricades and the ground was littered with rocks, stun grenade fragments and other debris.
An installation made of empty stun grenade shells and tear gas canisters depicted the Dome of the Rock outside the mosque, where some ornamental windows had been smashed, with the Arabic slogan “You Shall Not Pass.”
‘It’s a pity’
Israeli police limited access to Al-Aqsa to Palestinians over the age of 40, requiring all visitors to show identification.
“We do not know what to do,” Palestinian retiree Fathi Awwad told AFP in the Old City. “We are really sad about the situation inside, what is this? More than 200 injured inside! It’s a shame.”
The violence since Friday has been Jerusalem’s worst since 2017, fuelled by a long-running bid by Jewish settlers to evict several Palestinian families from their nearby east Jerusalem Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.
A Supreme Court hearing on a Palestinian appeal in the case originally set for Monday was pushed back by the justice ministry due to the tensions.
Despite mounting international condemnation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced support for the Israeli police’s “just struggle”, praising the “steadfastness that the Israeli police and our security forces are currently displaying”.
Police said Jewish “prayers continue as usual” at the Western Wall, which adjoins the esplanade, adding that “we will not let extremists threaten the safety of the public”.
The UN Security Council was to hold an informal meeting at Tunisia’s request later Monday on the unrest that has escalated since the last Friday prayers of Ramadan.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation said it would Tuesday hold an emergency meeting “to discuss the escalating Israeli aggression”, including the evictions issue and “attacks against worshippers in the Mosque compound and denial of the compound access to them”.
Palestinians had erected barricade of wooden planks and metal sheets to ensure Jews — who call the Al-Aqsa compound the Temple Mount — did not enter, but police had previously indicated Jews would not be permitted at the site on Monday.
The Palestinian Red Crescent put the toll from Monday’s clashes at 305 injured, including more than 200 who were hospitalised, five of them in critical condition.
The Israeli police reported nine injuries in their ranks.
Three Palestinians lost one eye each, said surgeon Firas Abu Akari at east Jerusalem’s Makassed hospital.
Adnan Farhoud, general director at Makassed, said it appeared Israeli police had targeted rubber-encased bullets directly at people’s heads.
Near the Old City, an Israeli driver was pelted with stones, lost control of the car and rammed it into Palestinians, according to police and footage from a journalist on the scene.
Once stopped, the vehicle was attacked by around a dozen people who continued to hurl projectiles at the passengers before an Israeli policeman dispersed the crowd by firing into the air.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan “encouraged the Israeli government to pursue appropriate measures to ensure calm during Jerusalem Day commemorations”.
All six Arab nations that have diplomatic ties with Israel — Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan — have rebuked the Jewish state, as have other mostly Muslim countries including Turkey and Indonesia.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas issued a fresh condemnation of what he called Israel’s “barbaric aggression.”