Dozens of Palestinian worshippers have been injured in clashes with Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem’s Old City, as weeks-long tensions between Israel and the Palestinians over Jerusalem soared again.
Fifty-three people were injured in the violence on Friday evening and 23 were hospitalised, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent rescue service. It says most were wounded in the face and eyes by rubber-coated bullets and shrapnel from stun grenades.
The clashes erupted when Israeli police deployed heavily as Muslims were performing evening prayers at Al-Aqsa during the holy month of Ramadan.
Video footage from the scene shows worshippers throwing chairs, shoes and rocks toward the police and officers opening fire. Israeli police also closed gates leading to Al-Aqsa inside the walled Old City.
Tens of thousands of Palestinian worshippers had earlier packed into the mosque on the final Friday of Ramadan and many stayed on to protest in support of Palestinians facing eviction from their homes on Israeli-occupied land claimed by Jewish settlers.
With health restrictions mostly lifted following Israel’s swift coronavirus vaccine campaign, worshippers packed tightly together as they knelt in prayer on the tree-lined hilltop plateau containing the mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site.
However, thousands of Palestinians from the occupied West Bank were blocked from reaching the Al-Aqsa Mosque as Israeli forces set up several roadblocks and checkpoints along the way to the holy site.
Continuing tensions in the city at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were front and centre in the Friday sermon given by Sheikh Tayseer Abu Sunainah.
“Our people will remain steadfast and patient in their homes, in our blessed land,” Abu Sunainah said of the multiple Palestinian families in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood who could be evicted under a long-running legal case.
Following prayers, thousands remained in the compound to protest against the evictions, with many waving Palestinian flags and chanting a refrain common during Jerusalem protests: “With our soul and blood, we will redeem you, Aqsa”.
Israel’s Supreme Court will hold a hearing on the Sheikh Jarrah evictions on Monday.
Sheikh Jarrah’s residents are overwhelmingly Palestinian, but the neighbourhood also contains a site revered by religious Jews as the tomb of an ancient high priest, Simeon the Just.
The spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said the evictions, “if ordered and implemented, would violate Israel’s obligations under international law” on East Jerusalem territory it captured and occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.
“We call on Israel to immediately halt all forced evictions, including those in Sheikh Jarrah, and to cease any activity that would further contribute to a coercive environment and lead to a risk of forcible transfer,” spokesman Rupert Colville said on Friday.
Israel’s foreign ministry said on Friday that Palestinians were “presenting a real-estate dispute between private parties as a nationalist cause, in order to incite violence in Jerusalem”.
Palestinians rejected the allegation.