Tens of thousands of Palestinians worshipped at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on the last Friday afternoon of the fasting month of Ramadan after early morning clashes again erupted at the flashpoint holy site.
The Islamic Waqf that administers the compound estimated that some 160,000 people attended prayers. Afterward, hundreds of Palestinians protested in front of the Dome of the Rock shrine waving Palestinian and Islamic flags, but there were no immediate reports of fresh violence.
Following a security assessment after the prayers, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai vowed that police would remain vigilant.
“The actions of the police during Ramadan and during the Friday prayers prove that we are determined not to let any extremist elements break the peace and undermine the freedom of worship,” he said.
He said a heavy police presence would remain in the city “ready for any scenario.”
While Israel has repeatedly said it has acted with restraint, the Palestinian Authority on Friday accused Israel of fomenting unrest.
“What restraint are they talking about? Every day forces go into the compound, beat people, fire rubber bullets and tear gas at worshipers, and this Israel calls restraint? said a Palestinian foreign ministry statement.
Earlier Friday, fighting broke out between Palestinians and police on the Temple Mount, which has seen recurring clashes in recent weeks.
Palestinians at the contested Jerusalem holy site threw rocks and launched fireworks toward officers and the Western Wall, located beneath the mount, which police said led them to enter the compound to disperse the rioters.
At least one stone thrown by the rioters landed in the Western Wall prayer area, police said.
Masked men also waved the flag of the Hamas terror group, launched fireworks and chanted, “We’ll sacrifice our lives for Al-Aqsa.”
The clashes ended around an hour after they began when other Palestinians in the compound intervened, convincing the stone throwers and the police to pull back.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said 42 people were hurt, 22 of whom were taken to the hospital. None of the injuries were serious, according to the Red Crescent.
הר הבית: פורעים פלסטיניים יידו אבנים וזיקוקים לעבר כוחות הביטחון וגב הכותל. הכוחות נכנסו לרחבת ההר ופיזרו את המתפרעים תוך שימוש באמצעים לפיזור הפגנות. בתמונה – האבן שנחתה בכותל pic.twitter.com/zVOS7SdjQB
— יערה אברהם | Yaara Avraham (@yaara_avraham) April 29, 2022
Police announced three people were arrested, two for throwing rocks and one suspected of inciting a mob.
“For the past hour, the site has been quiet and (Muslim) worshipers are safely entering (the compound)” police said after the clashes.
The Jerusalem Old City site is the holiest place in Judaism, as the location of the two biblical temples, and home to Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest shrine in Islam. Israel captured the Old City and East Jerusalem from its Jordanian occupiers in the 1967 war and extended sovereignty there. It allows Jews to visit but not pray there; the Muslim Waqf trust administers the holy sites atop the mount, known in Arabic as the Haram al-Sharif, or Holy Sanctuary.
Police said Thursday they were boosting deployment in Jerusalem with around 3,000 officers ahead of the Friday prayers.
Troops were spread out across Jerusalem’s Old City and the main roads leading to the Temple Mount compound, police said. Some streets in the Old City and East Jerusalem were closed to traffic.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) April 29, 2022
The last Friday of the holy month is also known among Palestinians as Quds Day, a day of solidarity initiated by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.
Iran initiated Quds Day, or Jerusalem Day, in 1979, the year of the Islamic Revolution. The day is commemorated with anti-Israel speeches, events, and threats to “liberate” Jerusalem from Israeli control.
Also Thursday, the Islamic Jihad terror group’s armed wing threatened Israel by showing footage of the organization’s Jenin aerial drones in a propaganda clip.
In the video released by the terror group ahead of Quds Day, marked on Friday, a drone could be seen dropping an explosive device on an Israeli military jeep in an incident that took place in September 2019.
“The enemy should think carefully and reflect: What are our drones like today, and what are their capabilities three years after that operation?” said Abu Hamza, a spokesperson for Islamic Jihad’s military wing.
The threat and the reinforced police presence in Jerusalem came amid heightened tensions in the capital and following regular clashes between police and Palestinian rioters at the Temple Mount throughout April, as Muslims marked Ramadan and Jews celebrated Passover.
On Wednesday night, over 100,000 Muslim worshipers took part in mass prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque for the Muslim holiday of Laylat al-Qadr (Night of Destiny), marking the day Muslims believe the first verses of the Quran were revealed to Muhammad.
Thousands of police were deployed to Jerusalem’s Old City ahead of Wednesday’s prayers, with no unusual incidents reported.
Jordan, which oversees the flashpoint site via its control of the Islamic Waqf, has been sharply and repeatedly critical in recent weeks of the behavior of Israeli security forces atop the Temple Mount.
Jordan has accused Israel of violating the status quo at the site, under which Muslims are allowed to visit and pray while Jews cannot pray and may only visit during restricted time slots.
Police barred non-Muslims from visiting the Temple Mount and the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound from Friday until the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on May 1 in order to reduce tensions and potential clashes — a policy that has been in place for years.
Earlier this month, there were serious clashes between police and Palestinian rioters, leading to hundreds of injuries and arrests.
Clashes at the holy site can spiral into a wider conflict, and were one of the triggers for the war between Israel and Hamas last year.
Agencies contributed to this report.