Afternoon prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound concluded without incident Friday, in sharp contrast to widespread violence that erupted at the flashpoint holy site earlier in the day.
Some 50,000 Muslim worshipers took part in the afternoon prayers, but though some marched and waved nationalist flags while leaving, there were no outbreaks of fighting.
Tensions Friday began bubbling at around 4 a.m. after thousands of Palestinians gathered at the compound known to Jews as the Temple Mount, due to reports of plans by Jewish extremists to perform a Passover animal sacrifice at the site.
Israeli authorities insisted that they would not allow such a ceremony to take place and arrested several suspects on Thursday and Friday in order to ensure as much. Such fears of Israeli violation of the status quo on the Temple Mount peak around Passover every year, but the new government in Jerusalem was particularly keen to quash them in recent weeks. This did not stop rumors from swirling around a possible sacrifice, given the overall lack of trust in Israeli law enforcement among Palestinians.
Dozens of young people began marching in the area before dawn on Friday. Some bore the Palestinian flag, while others carried green banners associated with the Hamas terror group, according to police. The marchers threw stones and set off fireworks, while stockpiling rocks and other objects to prepare for further clashes.
Police said they waited for morning prayers to end before entering the Temple Mount to disperse the rioters, and that some of them threw stones at the Western Wall below. Some Palestinians barricaded themselves inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque, hurling stones toward officers. Three officers were lightly hurt after being pelted with stones, two of whom required medical treatment.
The Palestinian Red Crescent emergency group reported 158 people were hurt in the clashes. It said the vast majority were treated at East Jerusalem’s al-Makassed Hospital or at a field hospital set up by medics, without giving details on the nature of the injuries. In footage from the police raid circulated on social media, officers could be seen hitting some Palestinians with clubs for no apparent reason.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry released a statement insisting that officers did not enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism. But later Friday morning, footage showed officers doing just that in order to detain several Palestinians.
כניסת מתפללים למתחם מסגד אל אקצא לתפילת יום השישי השני בחודש הרמדאן. בכמה מוקדים בעיר העתיקה מדווחים פלסטינים על עיכובים. אלפים מגיעים מהגדה המערבית וגם מתוך מיישובי החברה הערבית בתוך הקו הירוק. הסהר האדום עדכן 152 פצועים טופלו משעות הבוקר בעקבות העימותים שפרצו במתחם. pic.twitter.com/OHdW1XUIhv
— Jack khoury.جاك خوري (@KhJacki) April 15, 2022
Police said in a statement that it was committed to allowing prayers to take place at the holy site. “We call on the worshipers to maintain order and observe the prayers in an orderly manner. The Israel Police will not allow rioters to disrupt the prayers and disrupt public order,” police said.
A police source quoted by the Kan public broadcaster said some 400 people were arrested.
Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi sought to reach the site in order to supervise the police’s behavior, but officers were filmed barring him from entering the compound. A couple of officers shoved the lawmaker before their superior shouted at them for treating an elected official in such a manner.
לא יודע מה הסיבה.גיל , ניסיון , אולי עוד שיקולים ואולי הוא בכלל בן מיעוטים , אבל שימו לב לקצין עם הכומתה הירוקה ואופי התגובה. אני לא יודע אם יקבל צל"ש או נזיפה. אבל יש פה גם מסר ומי מציבים בשטח ונקודות חיכוך. pic.twitter.com/atUI48M32P
— Jack khoury.جاك خوري (@KhJacki) April 15, 2022
Police said it reopened the site to worshipers roughly six hours after clashes began and after “all the violators of public order were dispersed and arrested.”
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held a situational assessment with police chiefs on Friday morning, during which he said security forces were “working to calm tensions on the Temple Mount as well as throughout Israel, and we are preparing for any scenario,” according to a statement from his office.
But police conduct against the protesters enraged Israel’s Mideast neighbors, with Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey all issuing statements of fierce condemnation.
The UN, EU and the US were all more measured in their responses, instead focusing on calling for calm and urging the parties to act with restraint.
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh spoke on the phone with Egyptian officials and United Nations Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland on Friday following the clashes, according to the terror group.
In Haniyeh’s call with Wennesland, the Hamas leader demanded the Israelis fulfill several conditions: allow worshippers to pray at Al-Aqsa and end police operations there, release those detained after Friday’s clashes and definitively prevent extremist Jews from sacrificing at the hilltop, as a tiny minority had hoped to do.
Haniyeh also demanded that Israel cease “its killing and assassination operations in Jenin and across the West Bank,” according to the Hamas statement. Sixteen Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire as the IDF stepped up security activity in the West Bank over the past two weeks.
At 4 p.m. on Friday, the IDF’s closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip for Palestinians went into effect. The policy is standard for holidays, but the Defense Ministry said it would reevaluate the situation on Saturday evening, possibly lifting the lockdown then instead of maintaining it for the entire week-long holiday.