Clashes broke out between Palestinians and Israeli police at the Temple Mount early Friday morning, as spiking tensions, threats of terror and the observance of major holidays all converge around the flashpoint holy site.
Skirmishes between police and worshipers at the site were reported around 6:30 a.m., with officers entering the compound and clashing with people barricaded inside.
Police said in a statement that at around 4 a.m., dozens of young people began marching in the area. Some bore the Palestinian flag, while others carried green banners associated with the Hamas terror group.
The marchers threw stones and set off fireworks, while stockpiling rocks and other objects to prepare for further clashes, according to police.
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.
According to police, some Palestinians barricaded themselves inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque, from where they hurled stones toward officers. The police statement said the rioting was preventing prayers at the mosque and “thus harming a large number of Muslims” seeking to worship there.
Police said 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.
Police released video footage from the scene.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry released a statement clarifying officers did not enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism.
“Masked men hurl stones and set off fireworks, desecrating Al-Aqsa Mosque,” it said. “Contrary to FAKE reports, police forces DID NOT enter the mosque.”
Masked men hurl stones and set off fireworks, desecrating Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Contrary to FAKE reports, police forces DID NOT enter the mosque. pic.twitter.com/IaXnXbcDts
— Israel Foreign Ministry (@IsraelMFA) April 15, 2022
But later on Friday morning, police officers entered the mosque and detained several Palestinians, video footage showed.
The director of the mosque said some 400 Palestinians were detained. A police source quoted by the Kan public broadcaster later confirmed some 400 arrests.
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.
It later added that the site was reopened to worshipers, after “all the violators of public order were dispersed and arrested.”
— الصحفي هاني الشاعر ???????????????????????? (@JOURHANIALSHAER) April 15, 2022
In footage from the police raid circulated on social media, officers could be seen hitting some Palestinians with clubs for no apparent reason.
صح كلامك pic.twitter.com/DYsmBT5uiv
— الطـٓير الحـــر (@l_bahaa) April 15, 2022
אין מילים. pic.twitter.com/R8zYgKREEj
— Deiaa haj yahia (@DeiaaHaj) April 15, 2022
The Hamas terror group said in a statement that Israel would bear the consequences of its “brutal assaults.”
“Our people in Jerusalem are not alone in the battle for Al-Aqsa. The whole Palestinian people and its noble resistance and its vital power are with them,” said Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhum.
Gaza terror groups earlier this week repeated that Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque were red lines for them.
Fears of violence were already sky-high before the Friday morning scuffles.
This Friday is the second during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the first night of Judaism’s week-long Passover holiday, and Good Friday, when Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ
At the same time, a series of deadly terror attacks in Israel in recent weeks has killed 14 and left Israel reeling. The attacks have prompted countermeasures from Israeli security forces across the West Bank, including arrests that have spilled into violence.
Hamas called for an escalation against Israel on Thursday and urged “hundreds of thousands” to attend Friday prayers in Jerusalem, further stoking fears of conflict.
Thousands of police officers and hundreds of soldiers have been sent to the capital to boost security on the streets and in crowded places. Security forces have warned of attempts to carry out further attacks and have been working to close gaps in the separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank.
The Border Police’s head of operations, Oded Aflalo, told Ynet on Thursday that the force’s troops were at their highest alert.
“Today is the day we’re at our peak for preparations ahead of Seder night, combined with prayers on Friday for Ramadan,” he said, referring to the traditional dinner on the first night of Passover. “All possible scenarios are on the table, from the level of a threatening individual to a terrorist cell from a terror organization.”
He said Border Police were working to find Palestinians who were already in Israel illegally.
A senior police official told Ynet that additional officers will be guarding train stations and bus stops, which are expected to be packed with travelers and soldiers returning home from army bases. The police official also said there will be increased security at hotels and other sites that will host large Seder dinners.
Palestinian Authority security forces are cooperating with their Israeli counterparts and most of the Palestinian public is not expected to take to the streets, Channel 12 reported.
A senior security official told Channel 12 that an outbreak of violence could drag Israel into another round of Gaza fighting like last year’s war with Hamas.
“If there is an escalation tomorrow and there are casualties, we may get to Operation Guardian of the Walls round two,” he said, referring to the 2021 conflict.
Ramadan is typically a period of high tension, as tens of thousands of worshipers, including many West Bank Palestinians, attend services at Al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits atop the Temple Mount complex. The site is Judaism’s holiest place, and the mosque is Islam’s third-holiest.
The site is the emotional epicenter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and tensions there can easily snowball into wider conflagrations. Hamas and other Gaza-based terror groups have repeatedly invoked the flashpoint holy site as a red line. Police actions to quell riots there last year helped trigger the 11-day war in Gaza in May.
This week, a group of Jewish extremists sent tensions soaring by publicly encouraging ritual sacrifices for Passover on the Temple Mount. Jews are allowed to visit the compound, but not pray or perform religious rituals, as part of a delicate status quo.
The Returning to the Mount extremist group, which advocates the construction of a third Jewish temple on the site that once housed the two biblical Temples, announced on Facebook on Monday that it would be offering a cash prize to those who manage to sacrifice a lamb on the Temple Mount, and to anyone arrested trying to do so.
A small group of Jewish extremists has occasionally sought to perform the Biblically mandated Passover sacrifice on the Temple Mount. Police have regularly detained the perpetrators, who do not appear to have successfully pulled off a sacrifice in recent years at the site.
This year’s would-be sacrificers’ campaign has gained enormous traction in Palestinian and Arab media following the social media post, which drew threats from Hamas and condemnation from Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. Israeli authorities vowed to stop any attempts to bring sacrificial animals to the complex, as they have in years past.
On Thursday, Hamas and other Gaza terror groups said in a joint statement, “We are declaring a general mobilization in all places where our people are located. We are calling on the masses to come out in the hundreds of thousands to protect our nation and our mosque.”
Six Jews were arrested on Thursday morning after police suspected they were planning to sacrifice a goat at the Temple Mount ahead of Passover.
Israel has conveyed messages to Hamas that Israeli authorities will not allow Jewish extremists to hold sacrifices at the Temple Mount, Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri told Hamas media.
Al-Arouri said Hamas did not trust Israel’s reassurances and the terror group was preparing to respond to attempts to “defile Al-Aqsa.”
Tens of thousands were already expected to attend Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa. Most of the Ramadan worshipers will cross into Israel without permits, part of a policy to loosen normally tight Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement for the holiday. Attendance by West Bank Palestinians is limited to women, children and men over 50, as per Defense Ministry orders issued earlier this month.
Allowing in thousands of Palestinians carries a clear security risk for Israel, but clamping down on worshipers during Ramadan could spark an outbreak of violence.
In addition to the holiday friction, Israeli troops have been carrying out extensive raids in the West Bank following the deadliest outbreak of terror in Israel in years. The raids have led to violent protests in numerous West Bank communities.
At least 16 Palestinians have been killed in clashes with the IDF in the past two weeks alone, including a 17-year-old who died Friday morning of wounds sustained the day before.
A total of 18 suspects were arrested in the West Bank in the past couple of days, the IDF said on Thursday.