Noon prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque took place nearly without incident for the over 60,000 Muslims in attendance at the Jerusalem holy site, even as security tensions supercharged by passions around the site sparked attacks on Israel from multiple fronts, once again threatening to send the region spiraling into war.
The gathering at the shrine, which had seen several days of clashes between Israeli police and rioting worshipers, nonetheless ended with a fresh spasm of friction as hundreds gathered to wave Hamas and Palestinian flags at the conclusion of prayers.
Worshippers chanted in praise of a terror attack in the West Bank’s Jordan Valley in which two Israeli sisters were killed Friday, and they offered support for Lebanon after dozens of rockets were launched from the territory at Israel Thursday in the worst cross-border violence since 2006.
Police later said 15 people had been arrested “on suspicion of waving the terrorist organization flags and chanting incitement.”
Police earlier entered the compound following morning prayers to disperse a riot after worshipers began hurling rocks, authorities said.
Around 2,300 Israel Police and Border Police officers were deployed in Jerusalem and its surrounding areas to ensure quiet on Friday, authorities said.
סרטון אחד שמספר את כל הסיפור על ההתפרעויות ומה שמתרחש במדינה:
פלסטינים מניפים את דגלי החמאס ברחבת אל אקצא לאחר התפילה.
ארגון הטרור חמאס עומד מאחורי כל זה ומנסים ללבות את האש ולהסית לאלימות ועוד להאשים בזה את ישראל! pic.twitter.com/A7knLv7z1o
— Lorena Khateeb | لورينا خطيب (@kh_lorena) April 7, 2023
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, which began Wednesday night, and Easter. The first two weeks of Ramadan passed by relatively smoothly.
Police said in a statement that forces would remain bolstered throughout Ramadan “in order to maintain security and order, deal with instigators and troublemakers, and allow freedom of worship throughout the Old City and the holy sites in Jerusalem.”
The current round of violence began Tuesday following clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits on the flashpoint Temple Mount site in Jerusalem’s Old City.
The fighting sparked rocket fire from Gaza on Thursday and, in a significant escalation, an unusual barrage of nearly three dozen rockets from Lebanon into northern Israel. Israel has responded by shelling Hamas sites in both Gaza and Lebanon, where the Palestinian terror group holds considerable sway in refugee camps.
Earlier Friday, police arrested over 20 people, including some minors, in Arab-majority towns in northern Israel and East Jerusalem for various disturbances, amid fears that the country could see a repeat of Ramadan 2021, when tensions boiled over into days of all-out war with Gaza and fiery mob violence by groups of Arabs and Jews in mixed cities inside Israel.
Complicating the security challenge, the army was also hunting Friday for the terror suspects behind a shooting in the West Bank in which two Israeli sisters were killed and their mother was critically hurt.
The Hamas terror group praised the deadly shooting, calling it “a natural response to the occupation’s ongoing crimes against Al-Aqsa Mosque and its barbaric aggression against Lebanon and the steadfast Gaza.”
Hamas warned Israel against “continuing its crimes against Al-Aqsa Mosque,” claiming the holy site must remain “purely Islamic, with no place for occupation or [Israeli] sovereignty.”
There have been several attacks in the West Bank over the past week, with three soldiers hurt in a car-ramming attack on Saturday, and two more soldiers hurt in separate shooting attacks on Wednesday and Thursday.
Two soldiers were also injured, one seriously, in a terror stabbing near the Tzrifin military base in central Israel on Tuesday.