June 18, 2021

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Hundreds Hurt in Clashes at Aqsa Mosque as Tension Rises in Jerusalem – The New York Times

4 min read

JERUSALEM — Hundreds were injured as clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters broke out Monday morning at the Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, a site sacred to both Muslims and Jews, after a week of rising tension in the city. Police fired rubber-tipped bullets and stun grenades at stone-throwing Palestinians who had stockpiled stones at the site in expectation of a standoff with Jewish far-right groups.

By midmorning, more than 50 people had been transferred to the hospital, according to a representative of the Palestinian Red Crescent. One person was hit in the head by a bullet and was in a critical condition, the medical aid group said. Nine police officers were injured, a police spokesman said.

Tensions were expected to rise further as the day progressed, with thousands of far-right Israelis scheduled to march provocatively through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City on Monday afternoon to mark the capture of East Jerusalem during the Arab-Israeli war in 1967, an anniversary known in Israel as Jerusalem Day. Israel subsequently annexed that part of the city, a move that most of the world has not recognized. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

Videos posted on Twitter showed chaos both outside and inside the mosque, where some worshipers could be seen sheltering from explosions while others threw stones and set off fireworks. In another clip, police officers were seen striking a man being detained in part of the mosque compound.

Another video released by the police showed young men throwing stones from the perimeter of the mosque compound onto the land below. A separate clip, taken by a surveillance camera, appeared to show a Jewish man driving into a passer-by after stones hit his car.

Witnesses at the mosque reacted with shock at the Israeli police tactics at one of the world’s holiest sites. “Why have they been attacking the Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan?” asked Khaled Zabarqa, 48, a lawyer who said he had been praying at the mosque compound before escaping after the first shots were fired.

“The Aqsa Mosque is a sacred place for Muslims,” Mr. Zabarqa added. “Israel is starting a religious war.”

Jerusalem Day is always fraught. But the atmosphere was especially febrile on Monday because the confrontations followed weeks of escalating tensions in the city, where restrictions on Palestinian access to the Old City during the holy month of Ramadan, a far-right march through the city center in April, and street assaults by both Jews and Arabs have all contributed to a feverish atmosphere.

In recent days, pressure rose further as protest protests grew over the looming expulsion of several Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem. For Palestinians and their advocates, the case has become a stand-in for the wider campaign to force out Palestinians from parts of East Jerusalem and for their past displacement in the occupied territories and within Israel.

Tensions escalated again Friday night, as the police fired rubber-tipped bullets and stun grenades and Palestinians threw stones following prayers at the Aqsa compound. Video showed some grenades landing inside the mosque.

Militants in Gaza fired rockets into Israel overnight Sunday, after sending incendiary balloons into Israeli farmland for the past several days. Israel has returned fire, barred fishermen from the territory from accessing the sea and shut a key crossing between Gaza and Israel — but avoided a major escalation.

The tensions were compounded when a Palestinian killed an Israeli in a drive-by shooting in the occupied West Bank last week, setting off a manhunt by the Israeli Army in the West Bank and raids on Palestinian homes. Israeli soldiers later shot dead a Palestinian teenager in a separate incident.

A court decision on the families’ evictions in East Jerusalem, scheduled for Monday, was postponed on Sunday, in part to diffuse these rising tensions. The Israeli police also made a last-minute decision Monday morning to block Jews from accessing the Aqsa compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

But clashes broke out anyway, and were expected to escalate throughout the day.

The violence comes against a backdrop of political instability in both Israel and the occupied territories. The Palestinian Authority recently canceled what would have been the first Palestinian elections in 15 years.

And after a fourth Israeli election in just two years, Israeli opposition parties are locked in negotiations to form a coalition government and replace Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s prime minister. Mr. Netanyahu is serving in a caretaker capacity as he stands trial on corruption charges.

Myra Noveck contributed reporting from Jerusalem and Iyad Abuheweila from Gaza City.

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