Israeli police on Sunday entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City to secure the way for Jewish visitors to the flashpoint holy site, fueling clashes that left 17 Palestinians wounded, said Palestinian medical workers. The unrest happened two days after clashes with Palestinians at the same site. Violence in Jerusalem between Israeli security forces and Palestinian demonstrators a year ago escalated into an 11-day Gaza war, the AP reports. The hilltop compound housing the mosque is the third-holiest site in Islam, while it is the holiest place for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount. The competing claims to the site have sparked numerous rounds of violence.
This year, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Christian holy week culminating in Easter Sunday, and the weeklong Jewish Passover are all occurring at the same time, with tens of thousands of visitors flocking to the city after coronavirus restrictions have been mostly lifted. Israeli police accused Palestinians of "defiling and desecrating" a holy site, while Palestinian officials accused Israel of trying to divide the sensitive holy site. "What happened in Al-Aqsa Mosque is a dangerous escalation, the repercussions of which are to be borne by the Israeli government alone," said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Police said they entered the compound to facilitate the routine visit of Jews to the holy site, adding that Palestinians had stockpiled stones and set up barriers in anticipation of violence. Amateur videos circulating on social media appeared to show police officers using batons to subdue arrested Palestinians and clear people from the esplanade, drawing accusations they were using excessive force. In one video, an officer clubbed an apparently unarmed man as he stood next to a child. Omer Barlev, the Israeli minister in charge of the police, said it was important to ensure freedom of worship "but we will not compromise when violence and terror take place." Officers cleared Palestinians out of the sprawling esplanade outside the mosque itself early Sunday, while dozens of Palestinians remained inside the building chanting "God is Greatest."
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