Jerusalem Calms After Israeli-Palestinian Clashes at Holy Site

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VideoDozens 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.CreditCredit…Mahmoud Illean/Associated Press

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

Palestinians threw stones at the police, who stormed parts of the mosque compound, fired sound grenades and rubber bullets and 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 Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City, known to Jews as the Temple Mount — a complex that is sacred to both religions.

The violence followed a recent wave 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 buildup to an 11-day war last May between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.

Over the past month, violence has escalated across Israel and the occupied territories with four Arab attacks that killed 14 people in Israel. That prompted the Israeli military to step up raids in the occupied West Bank that have left at least 15 Palestinians dead. Israel said that the raids were aimed at preventing and deterring further attacks, but Palestinians denounced them as a collective punishment.

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

The violence on Friday also threatened the already shaky Israeli government. A lawmaker from a small Islamist party that is part of the governing coalition said he might consider resigning if police activity at the Aqsa Mosque compound did not stop.

Palestinian authorities strongly condemned the storming of the compound by the Israeli police.

“The expulsion of the worshipers by force, repression and batons in preparation for the incursions of the Jewish extremists will ignite the fire of the religious war for which the Palestinians alone will not pay the price,” the Palestinian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Yair Lapid, the Israeli foreign minister, said that his country was committed to freedom of worship for people of all faiths in Jerusalem.

“Our goal is to enable peaceful prayer for believers 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 we believe in.”

One of the holiest structures in Islam, the mosque is on a site that is part of the Old City of Jerusalem, important to Christians, Jews and Muslims. The compound is administered by an Islamic trust known as the Waqf, which coordinates with the Israeli security forces present on the site.

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

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

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

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

The confrontation on Friday began at about 5:30 a.m. and lasted for more than three hours. Tens of thousands of Muslim worshipers had gathered at the compound for dawn prayers on the second Friday of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. Both sides said the other set off the violence.

The police said the melee at the compound began after Palestinians collected stones, wooden planks and other large objects before the Muslim dawn prayer began and also set off fireworks. Officers entered the compound only after the prayer was over and the crowds had begun to throw stones in the direction of the Western Wall below, a Jewish holy site where worshipers had also gathered to pray, according to the police.

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

However some Palestinian witnesses gave conflicting accounts of how the troubles started. They said that the Israeli police moved deeper into the compound as the call to prayer sounded, a few minutes before the prayers began, which the Palestinians viewed as a provocation. They said the police had fired the first shot.

The police expelled many of the worshipers, in some cases shoving them and hitting them with batons, but some returned afterward.

Another video showed police officers inside the mosque, some pointing their weapons at the Palestinians sitting on the floor while another held a stash of white zip-ties in his hand. Another video showed rows of men laying on their stomachs, their hands tied behind their backs with the zip-ties.

A Palestinian prisoner’s rights group said more than 450 people were arrested by the police. They face charges of throwing stones, firing fireworks, assaulting police officers, violent fortification, violent rioting and disturbing public order, according to the police.

Credit…Ammar Awad/Reuters

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

But the fighting could have far-reaching consequences for the government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Mazen Ghanaim, a member of the Raam, an Islamist party that is the smallest member of the governing coalition, said he might resign from the coalition if police activity at the mosque did not stop.

Such a move would reduce the number of lawmakers loyal to the government in the 120-seat Israeli Parliament to 59, giving the opposition a wafer-thin majority, potentially allowing it to dissolve Parliament and hold new elections.

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

The violence compounded several weeks of rising tensions across Israel and the occupied territories, in which more than 30 Israelis, Palestinians and foreigners have died in the deadliest wave of violence, outside of a full-scale war, for several years.

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

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

Israeli officials said that most of those Palestinians were militants who had been involved in attacks or were planning new ones. But the casualties included an unarmed woman who the Israeli Army said was shot after she failed to stop when they fired warning rounds and a rights lawyer who was caught in a shootout during an Israeli raid.

Patrick Kingsley and