Rioters burn tires, throw explosives at Gaza border

Violent clashes break out at Al-Aqsa, 2 rockets fired from Gaza as tensions soar

Dozens skirmish with officers at flashpoint mosque for 2nd straight night; projectile lands in open territory near Gaza fence; riots erupt near border and in northern Israeli city

Border Police stand guard outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount  in Jerusalem's Old City during clashes with Palestinians, on April 5, 2023. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
Border Police stand guard outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City during clashes with Palestinians, on April 5, 2023. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Fresh clashes broke out at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired two projectiles at Israel, and riots broke out in Gaza and Arab communities in Israel on Wednesday as tensions spiked at the start of the Passover holiday.

The fighting followed skirmishes on Tuesday night between police and worshipers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, subsequent rocket fire from Gaza and Israeli counterstrikes in the Strip.

The Israel Defense Forces said one of the launches on Wednesday failed to clear the border and landed inside Gaza, and the second struck an open area near the border fence.

A warning siren sounded in an open area as a result of the launches, the IDF said.

Shortly after, fighting broke out at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Footage showed police in riot gear trying to make their way into the site as those inside hurled objects at them from within.

“Dozens of young people who were breaking the law, some of them masked, brought fireworks and stones into the mosque with the aim of disturbing public order in the area, and were desecrating the mosque,” police said in a statement.

Police said the Palestinians had closed the doors to the mosque and prevented worshipers from leaving in order to barricade themselves inside.

“Police forces prevented the law-breakers from closing the doors and barricading themselves inside, and helped worshipers leave the mosque,” police said. “The rioters shouted incitement, shot fireworks, and threw objects at officers.”

Around the same time, there were reports of riots near the Gaza border fence, with Palestinians burning tires and throwing improvised explosives in the direction of the border.

IDF troops were working to disperse the rioters at the border, Army Radio reported.

Clashes also broke out in the Arab-majority city of Umm al-Fahm in northern Israel during a march in support of Al-Aqsa on Wednesday night.

Police said they moved to break up the event after rioters threw stones at Highway 65.

A unit of detectives was attacked at the scene, and one of the officers fired his weapon into the air to help them escape, police said.

Footage from the scene showed rioters burning tires in the city’s streets.

Police later said five minors were arrested on suspicion of throwing rocks at officers.

Other disturbances were reported in the Arab Israeli communities of Baqa al-Gharbiya, Arraba, Reineh, Kafr Kanna and Kafr Manda, and in a number of cities in the West Bank.

The latest violence at Al-Aqsa prompted fresh condemnations of Israel, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denouncing the conduct of police as “unacceptable.”

“The intrusions and threats against the sanctity and historical significance of Al-Aqsa Mosque as well as Palestinians’ freedom of religion and life must cease,” he said in a television interview, according to the official Anadolu news agency. “We will continue to stand by our Palestinian brothers and sisters under all circumstances and to protect our sacred values. Israel should know this as well.”

Bahrain’s foreign ministry issued a statement expressing its “strong condemnation” and said it rejects “all provocative actions which threaten further escalation and violence.”

Jordan meanwhile charged that Israel’s actions marked a “dangerous escalation” and were a violation of international law.

Security officials had feared an escalation due to the Muslim Ramadan holiday, which often sees a spike in Israeli-Palestinian tensions, and coincides this year with Passover and Easter. Passover began on Wednesday evening. The first two weeks of Ramadan passed by relatively smoothly.

On Tuesday, police said they entered Al-Aqsa after masked youths barricaded themselves inside the mosque atop the Temple Mount with fireworks, clubs and rocks and refused to come out peacefully. Officers apparently believed the group intended to assault Jews visiting the mount on Passover Eve.

Police said they tried to convince rioters inside the mosque to leave, but the group failed to comply, leaving security forces no option but to enter it, where they were attacked with rocks and fireworks.

Police added that 350 suspects were detained and that “the rioters caused damage to the mosque and desecrated it.”

The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism and is revered as the location of both ancient Jewish temples. The compound is Islam’s third holiest site and is managed by Jordan as part of a delicate arrangement with Israel.

Tens of thousands of worshipers visit Al-Aqsa throughout the Ramadan month, regularly leading to a spike in tensions with Israel and violence.

Israeli security forces remove Palestinian Muslim worshipers sitting on the grounds of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, early on April 5, 2023. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

The Gaza-ruling Hamas terrorist group denounced the Tuesday raid on the mosque as an “unprecedented crime” and called on Palestinians in the West Bank “to go en masse to the Al-Aqsa Mosque to defend it.”

The clashes led to some 16 rockets being fired at Israel from Gaza early Wednesday. The Sderot Municipality said one of the rockets struck a factory in the industrial area, causing damage. No one was hurt.

In response Israel carried out airstrikes in the Strip, hitting several Hamas facilities.

An Israeli soldier was also wounded in a suspected shooting near the West Bank city of Hebron

The fighting raised fears of a wider conflagration. Similar clashes two years ago erupted into a bloody 11-day war between Israel and Hamas.

The police action prompted condemnation from countries including Jordan and Turkey and statements of concern from the US and UN.

The Arab League was set to meet for an emergency session on Wednesday and the UN Security Council called an emergency meeting for Thursday.

Police walk inside the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, early on April 5, 2023 after clashes erupted during Islam’s holy month of Ramadan. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

In a statement on Wednesday afternoon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government was committed to “maintaining the status quo and calming tensions” on the Temple Mount.

“Israel is committed to preserving freedom of worship, free access for all religions, and the status quo on the Temple Mount, and will not allow violent extremists to change this,” Netanyahu wrote.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said Wednesday morning he was calling for the security cabinet to be convened.

Last week, the IDF announced it would impose a closure on the West Bank, set to take effect at 5 p.m. Wednesday, with crossing points closed to Palestinians on the first and last days of the Passover holiday. Gaza border crossings will also close.

Such closures are standard practice during festivals and holidays. The military says they are a preventative measure against attacks in periods of increased tension.

The spiraling violence comes as the Israeli government contends with a massive protest movement sparked by the coalition’s plans to severely weaken the judiciary. Opponents say the legislation will fundamentally change Israel’s status as a democracy and threatens individual rights.

The protests have spread into the military, with some high-level reservists, including air force pilots, saying they will halt their service if the legislation goes through.

Netanyahu said he had decided to fire Defense Minister Yoav Gallant last week, after Gallant warned of the security implications of the judicial overhaul and called for a pause to the legislative push. Netanyahu said he had decided to delay the legislation to make room for compromise talks the next day after coming under massive pressure. Gallant has not been formally fired and remains in his position.

Tensions have also been escalating on the northern border amid a series of airstrikes in Syria that have been attributed to Israel, and threats between Israeli officials and Iran, which acts in Syria to support its government and backs the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah.

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