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Jerusalem calms down after Israeli-Palestinian clashes at Holy site

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Dozens of people were injured in fighting between Israeli riot police and Palestinians at the Aqsa Mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, on the first day of a rare convergence of Ramadan, Easter and Passover.recognitionRecognition…Mahmoud Illean/Associated Press

JERUSALEM – More than 150 people were injured at one of Jerusalem’s holiest sites on Friday after clashes erupted between Israeli riot police and Palestinians, adding to weeks of escalating tensions in Israel and the occupied West Bank and fears of more fires in the coming days.

Palestinians threw stones at police, who stormed parts of the mosque compound and responded by firing sonic grenades and rubber bullets and saying they arrested more than 400 people. But by midday on Friday, the first day of a rare convergence of Ramadan, Passover and Easter, calm had returned to the compound of the Aqsa Mosque in the Old City, known to Jews as the Temple Mount – a complex sacred to both religions.

The violence followed a recent spate of Palestinian attacks on Israelis and deadly Israeli raids in the occupied West Bank. Tensions and clashes around the same compound played a central role in the build-up to an 11-day war between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip last May.

Violence in Israel and the occupied territories escalated last month, with five Palestinian attacks killing 14 people in Israel. This prompted the Israeli military to step up raids in the occupied West Bank, which have killed at least 15 Palestinians. Israel said the raids were aimed at preventing and deterring further attacks, but the Palestinians denounced them as collective punishment.

Recognition…Menahem Kahana/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Friday’s violence also threatened the already shaky Israeli government. An MP from a small Islamist party that is part of the governing coalition said he could consider resigning if police activity at the Aqsa Mosque compound doesn’t stop.

The Palestinian authorities strongly condemned the Israeli police’s storming of the site.

“The expulsion of believers with violence, repression and batons in preparation for the raids by Jewish extremists will ignite the fires of religious war for which the Palestinians alone will not pay the price,” the Palestinian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Yair Lapid, Israel’s foreign minister, said his country is committed to religious freedom for people of all faiths in Jerusalem.

“Our goal is to enable believers to pray peacefully during the Ramadan holiday,” he said in a statement. “The riots this morning on the Temple Mount are unacceptable and go against the spirit of the religions in which we believe.”

The mosque is one of Islam’s holiest structures and is located in a place that is part of the Old City of Jerusalem and is important to Christians, Jews and Muslims. The connection is managed by an Islamic trust called Waqf, which coordinates with Israeli security forces present on the premises.

Christians and Jews are allowed to visit the site, and Israeli officials have become increasingly lenient about Jews praying quietly on the mountain during Sunday through Thursday morning visiting hours. For weeks there had been expectations that tensions would rise around the confluence of Ramadan, Passover and Easter, the first since 1991.

In recent days, police have arrested several Jewish activists suspected of planning the more visible gesture of animal sacrifice. On Friday morning they stopped a Jewish man with a goat near the mosque. The goat was confiscated.

Recognition…Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Rumors had circulated on Palestinian social media that Jewish hardliners would breach Aqsa Mosque this weekend, leading to calls for Palestinians to defend the area.

Friday’s confrontation began around 5:30 a.m. and lasted more than three hours. Tens of thousands of Muslim believers gathered on the site for morning prayers on the second Friday of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. Both sides said the other sparked the violence.

Police said the melee at the site began after Palestinians collected stones, wooden planks and other large objects and also set off fireworks before the start of Muslim morning prayers. Officers only entered the compound after prayer had ended and the crowd had begun throwing rocks towards the Western Wall below, a Jewish holy site where believers had also gathered for prayer, police said.

Officials responded by firing rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades at the Palestinian stone-throwers.

However, some Palestinian witnesses gave conflicting accounts of how the riots began. They said Israeli police pushed deeper into the compound when the call to prayer went out minutes before the prayer began, in what the Palestinians saw as a provocation. They said the police fired the first shot.

The police expelled many of the devotees, in some cases shoving and beating them with batons, but some later returned.

Another video showed police officers inside the mosque, some pointing their guns at the Palestinians sitting on the floor, while another was holding a stack of white cable ties. Another video showed rows of men lying on their stomachs with their hands tied behind their backs with cable ties.

A Palestinian prisoner rights group said more than 450 people had been detained by police. You will be charged Throwing stones, firing fireworks, attacking police officers, violent fortifications, violent rioting and disrupting public order, police said.

Recognition…Ammar Awad/Reuters

A few hours later, the Muslim noon prayer passed without incident.

But the fighting could have far-reaching consequences for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government. Mazen Ghanaim, a member of the Raam, an Islamist party that is the smallest member of the ruling coalition, said he could quit the coalition if police activities at the mosque were not halted.

Such a move would reduce the number of pro-government MPs in Israel’s 120-seat parliament to 59, giving the opposition a razor-thin majority, potentially allowing it to dissolve parliament and call new elections.

Mr Bennett lost his majority last week after a right-wing lawmaker defected from his own party and said the government must do more to protect Israel’s Jewish identity.

The violence compounded several weeks of rising tensions in Israel and the occupied territories, where more than 30 Israelis, Palestinians and foreigners died in the deadliest spate of violence in several years outside of a full-blown war.

The escalation began on March 22 when a member of Israel’s Arab minority stabbed and rammed four Israelis to death in the south of the country. Days later, two other Arab citizens of Israel shot dead two Israeli police officers in Hadera, a city in the north of the country. All three attackers had ties to the Islamic State and were later fatally shot themselves.

More attacks followed, prompting the Israeli military to increase the intensity of its raids on the West Bank. At least 15 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since the crackdown began.

Israeli officials said most of these Palestinians are militants who have been involved in attacks or are planning new ones. However, the victims included an unarmed woman who the Israeli army said was shot after she failed to stop when she fired warning rounds, and a lawyer involved in a shootout during an Israeli raid.

https://www.nytimes.com/live/2022/04/15/world/jerusalem-al-aqsa-mosque/al-aqsa-mosque-clashes Jerusalem calms down after Israeli-Palestinian clashes at Holy site

Mike Fahey

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