Minor confrontations were reported at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and the Al-Aqsa Mosque Wednesday morning between Israeli police and Palestinians, with heightened tensions in the city ahead of a planned right-wing march that has not been approved by authorities.
Videos from the mount showed rocks and Molotov cocktails being hurled at cops, including from within Al-Aqsa.
Several firebombs sparked small fires in a mosque and a carpet at an entrance. These were put out. The clashes were limited in scope.
“The violence endangers worshipers attempting to enter the mosque, and impeded police efforts to ensure freedom of worship at the site,” Israel’s Foreign Ministry said.
“The Molotov Cocktails set fire to a mat and a window causing fires that luckily were extinguished before greater damage was done,” it added.
The Molotov Cocktails set fire to a mat and a window causing fires that luckily were extinguished before greater damage was done.
Earlier this week rioters were filmed throwing stones, setting off firecrackers and even playing soccer inside the mosque pic.twitter.com/sOQe5qjKL1
— Israel Foreign Ministry (@IsraelMFA) April 20, 2022
The confrontations occurred as several hundred Jewish pilgrims, escorted by police, visited the holy site.
According to a Jewish Temple Mount activist group that encourages visits to the site, Wednesday saw 1,538 Jewish visitors, a daily record for a holiday; some 2,300 Jews had visited the area since the start of Passover.
Hebrew media reported that three Jewish men were arrested after ignoring police instructions and attempting to pray, which is forbidden for Jews.
Non-Muslims are to be banned from Friday from visiting the compound until the end of Ramadan on May 2, in accordance with long-term policy.
This year’s 10-day ban on non-Muslim visitors is viewed as part of the status quo on the Temple Mount, which allows Muslims to visit and pray, while Jews are only allowed to visit during limited time slots and cannot pray. The site is the most sacred place for Jews as the location of the biblical temples, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits atop the Temple Mount, is the third-holiest site for Muslims.
Meanwhile, Jewish right-wing activists vowed to press forward with plans to march through Jerusalem’s Old City despite police saying they had rejected the parade’s planned route.
The so-called “flag parade,” similar to the one usually held in the city on Jerusalem Day, has been rejected by police due to organizers’ plan to march through the volatile Damascus Gate. On Wednesday morning, police said they’d agreed to an alternative route proposed by organizers, but the latter then rescinded the proposal for unspecified reasons.
“We again clarify that at this stage police have not approved the protest march in the requested format,” the statement said.
The march was called after Palestinians this week attacked buses outside the Old City en route to the Western Wall, smashing windows and wounding passengers, and attacked Jews in prayer shawls on their way to the wall.
Far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir (Religious Zionism) said he would take part in the march.
On Wednesday morning, thousands of people attended the week’s second iteration of a traditional prayer ceremony at the Western Wall, with authorities on alert for any potential escalation.
Large numbers of police forces, including undercover officers, were deployed to secure the event in Jerusalem’s Old City, which started around 8:30 a.m. Numerous roads in the area were closed to traffic.
The semi-annual priestly blessing ceremony, known in Hebrew as “birkat kohanim,” is held on the intermediate days of the Passover and Sukkot festivals. It usually draws tens of thousands of worshippers, with crowds spilling out from the wall’s plaza into the surrounding areas.
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.
Hamas issued fresh threats on Tuesday, after a flare-up in the south the night before.
A rocket was fired from Gaza on Monday night and intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system, in the first launch from the strip in four months. Israel hit Hamas targets in Gaza hours later.
None of the Gaza-based terror groups claimed responsibility for the rocket.
A senior security official told the Kan public broadcaster on Tuesday that Israel was preparing for more rocket fire from Gaza. Hamas is unable to prevent other terror groups from firing off rockets, and Israel’s air defense is on its highest alert, the official said.
Hamas media in Gaza said the strip’s terror groups have decided to raise their readiness level for the coming days.
“It was emphasized at our meeting that we must continue to be prepared and to raise the national readiness,” a Hamas spokesperson said. “Our finger is on the trigger.”
After the rocket fire, Hamas reached out to Israel through Egyptian mediators in order to stress that it wasn’t interested in further escalation and had not been behind the attack, according to Kan.
Ramadan is often a period of tension between Israel and the Palestinians. On Friday, those tensions boiled over after young Palestinians stockpiled rocks and other weapons inside the mosque and marched in the area, with some people carrying the green banners of the Hamas terror group.
Police came onto the compound, leading to clashes. Some 400 Palestinians were arrested and over 150 were injured. Most detainees were later released.
The fighting, and images of police striking civilians with batons, drew international condemnation, including from Israel’s Arab allies.