Palestinians clashed with Israeli police officers on the Temple Mount Friday morning in the latest round of skirmishes at the holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City over the past week.
According to police, hundreds of people began rioting during early morning Muslim prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, hurling rocks and fireworks at officers. Police said some of the rioters were masked and carried flags of the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group, which urged Palestinians to “mobilize” for Friday’s prayers at the Temple Mount.
Police said that despite the rock-throwing, officers waited until prayers ended and worshipers dispersed before intervening, after which the clashes intensified and moved in the direction of the Western Wall, where Jewish prayers were being held below.
“Police forces were forced to use riot dispersal means and to push the mob back,” a police statement said.
A masked rioter who was wounded in the clashes was taken by police for medical care, the statement said. According to the Red Crescent, 31 Palestinians were hurt in the clashes, 14 of whom were taken to the hospital for treatment.
Police said a female officer was hit in the face by a rock thrown at her and was taken for medical treatment.
“We will continue to act against rioters and lawbreakers,” police said, while vowing to maintain freedom of worship in Jerusalem.
המתיחות בהר הבית: עם זיקוקים, אבנים ודגלי חמאס – מאות מתפללים התפרעו לפנות בוקר ופוזרו על ידי המשטרה | תיעוד
צילום: דוברות המשטרה pic.twitter.com/aNO4DLx9XA
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) April 22, 2022
During the clashes, a tree atop the Temple Mount caught fire. Israeli authorities said the blaze was sparked by a firework launched by rioters, while Palestinians blamed police. The fire was extinguished.
A video released by police showed a Palestinian appearing to shoot off a firework, after which smoke is seen coming from the nearby tree.
دحضًا لاكاذيب البلطجية الفلسطينيين ووسائل الاعلام الداعمة لهم: لحظة اطلاق الالعاب النارية من قبل المشاغبين الفلسطينيين مما سبب في اندلع حريق في أحد الأشجار في باحات #المسجد_الأقصى المبارك. هل تتجرأ الفضائيات العربية المنحازة بنشر القصة الحقيقية؟ @AJArabic @AlMayadeenNews pic.twitter.com/KbaYbcea8H
— افيخاي ادرعي (@AvichayAdraee) April 22, 2022
Police also said a number of Muslim worshipers tried to stop the rioters, but were unsuccessful in their attempts.
“Rioters and rock-throwers are first and foremost harming the many worshipers at the Temple Mount,” police said.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid shared video from the Temple Mount in which a group of men appeared to confront one of the rioters.
“This is what truly happened on the Temple Mount this morning: a small group of Islamic extremists tried to take over Al-Aqsa Mosque. They want to forcibly remove the moderates who simply want to observe Ramadan and pray in peace,” he tweeted in English, Hebrew and Arabic.
Another video said to have been filmed at the Al-Aqsa Mosque before the rioting started showed a group of Palestinians chanting pro-Hamas slogans.
“A bullet for a bullet, fire for fire, we are your people [Yahya] Sinwar,” they chanted, referring to the Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip.
Every Muslim in the world must see this video.
This is what truly happened on the Temple Mount this morning: a small group of Islamic extremists tried to take over Al-Aqsa Mosque. They want to forcibly remove the moderates who simply want to observe Ramadan and pray in peace. pic.twitter.com/Y4Sl9KebDk
— יאיר לפיד – Yair Lapid???? (@yairlapid) April 22, 2022
The violence subsided later in the morning after another group of dozens of Palestinians said they wanted to clean the area ahead of the main weekly prayers midday, which are regularly attended by tens of thousands of Muslim worshippers. The police withdrew to a gate leading to the Temple Mount and the stone-throwing stopped.
Israel Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai visited the Old City during the rioting for a situational assessment.
He later ordered reserve Border Police officers to be put on alert for immediate call-up over concerns the violence could spread to Arab cities like Umm al-Fahm and Nazareth, according to Hebrew media reports.
An unnamed police official told Channel 12 news that Hamas has increased its efforts in recent days to incite a broader flareup, chiefly through the clashes at the Temple Mount.
Similar violence has erupted almost daily at the Temple Mount since last Friday, when intense clashes broke out at the compound, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
There were also clashes there Thursday, the last day Jewish visitors were allowed to access the site ahead of a closure until the end of Ramadan on May 2, as part of a years-long policy of barring non-Muslims from the site during the final 10 days of the Muslim holy month.
The Temple Mount is a frequent flashpoint of Israeli-Palestinian tensions, with clashes there last year helping precipitate the 11-day military conflict between Israel and terror groups in the Gaza Strip after the enclave’s Hamas rulers fired rockets at Jerusalem. The site is the most sacred place for Jews as the location of the biblical temples, and Al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits atop the Temple Mount, is the third-holiest site for Muslims.
Jerusalem has been a tinderbox in recent weeks as Palestinians scraped with police on the flashpoint Temple Mount, the Ramadan and Passover holidays drew thousands to holy sites, Israeli security forces cracked down on terror in the West Bank, and Gaza terror groups stoked the flames.
On Thursday, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said that “we are still at the beginning of the battle” and warned Israel over the Temple Mount.
His comments came after Israel and Gaza-based terrorists clashed in the largest exchange of fire since last year’s fighting, with the military carrying out air raids in the Strip in response to rocket fire and the launch of anti-aircraft missiles.
No Israelis were directly injured by the rocket fire earlier in the night, but three people were lightly wounded in falls that took place while running to bomb shelters.
No Gaza group immediately took responsibility for either of the night’s launches, as had been the case after the week’s first rocket launch on Monday evening. However, several media reports citing Israeli security officials pegged Hamas-rival Palestinian Islamic Jihad as responsible for the Monday rocket fire.
This week’s rocket fire ended an almost four-month period of quiet on the Gaza border.
Along with Gaza and Jerusalem, the West Bank has also been a locus of recent tensions as security forces have ramped up operations after 14 people were killed in a series of terror attacks carried out by Arab Israelis and Palestinians.
Troops have been carrying out extensive raids in the West Bank in response to the attacks, with at least 17 Palestinians killed in clashes with Israeli forces.
On Thursday evening, the Israel Defense Forces shuttered crossings from the West Bank and Gaza Strip to Palestinians for the end of Passover. The closure will end on Saturday at an hour yet to be determined.
Such closures are standard practice during Jewish festivals and holidays. The military says they are a preventative measure against attacks in periods of increased tension.
Palestinian worshipers will still be allowed to enter Israel for Friday Ramadan prayers in Jerusalem, subject to existing restrictions, the military’s liaison to the Palestinians said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.