JERUSALEM: More than 150 people were injured in clashes between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem on Friday, the first confrontation at the Flashpoint shrine since the start of Ramadan.
Israeli police said dozens of masked men entered Al-Aqsa to set off fireworks before crowds threw stones at the Western Wall – considered the holiest place where Jews can pray.
Witnesses said Palestinians threw stones at Israeli forces, who fired rubber-coated bullets and stun grenades.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said 153 people were hospitalised and “dozens” of others were treated at the scene. Israeli police said at least three officers were hurt.
Around 400 people were arrested, the Palestinian Prisoner s Club said.
The clashes follow three weeks of deadly violence in Israel and the occupied West Bank, with the Jewish holiday of Passover and Christian Easter overlapping with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Al-Aqsa is the third holiest site in Islam. The Jews called it the Temple Mount, referring to the two temples that were said to have stood there in ancient times.
Clashes in Jerusalem, including between Israeli troops and Palestinians visiting Al-Aqsa, during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan last year have led to a lengthy rift between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the Palestinian enclave of Gaza. 11 days of devastating conflict.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yar Rapid said Friday’s “riots” were “unacceptable”.
“The convergence of Passover, Ramadan and Easter is symbolic of what we have in common. We must not let anyone turn these holy days into a platform for hate, incitement and violence,” he said.
UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland urged “the authorities on both sides to immediately de-escalate the situation and prevent any further provocations by radical actors”.
The US, European Union and the Arab League have also voiced their concern.
Washington on Friday said it was “deeply concerned” by the events in Jerusalem.
“We call on all sides to exercise restraint (and) avoid provocative actions and rhetoric,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.