Israeli police have fired rubber bullets and stun grenades towards rock-hurling Palestinian youth at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque amid growing anger over the potential eviction of Palestinians from homes on land claimed by Jewish settlers.
At least 178 Palestinians and six officers were injured in the night-time clashes at Islam’s third-holiest site and around east Jerusalem, Palestinian medics and Israeli police said, as thousands of Palestinians faced off with several hundred Israeli police in riot gear.
Tension has mounted in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, with nightly clashes in east Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah – a neighbourhood where numerous Palestinian families face eviction in a long-running legal case.
Calls for calm and restraint poured in on Friday from the US and the United Nations, with others including the European Union and Jordan voicing alarm at the possible evictions.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians packed into the hilltop compound surrounding the mosque earlier on Friday for prayers. Many stayed on to protest against the evictions in the city at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts.
But following the evening meal that breaks the Ramadan fast, clashes broke out at al-Aqsa with smaller scuffles near Sheikh Jarrah, which sits near the walled Old City’s famous Damascus Gate.
Police used water cannon mounted on armoured vehicles to disperse several hundred protesters gathered near the homes of families facing potential eviction.
“If we don’t stand with this group of people here, (evictions) will (come) to my house, her house, his house and to every Palestinian who lives here,” said protester Bashar Mahmoud, 23, from the nearby Palestinian neighbourhood of Issawiya.
An Aqsa official appealed for calm on the compound through the mosque’s loudspeakers. “Police must immediately stop firing stun grenades at worshippers, and the youth must calm down and be quiet.”
Israel’s supreme court will hold a hearing on the Sheikh Jarrah evictions on Monday, the same day that Israel marks Jerusalem Day – its annual celebration of its capture of east Jerusalem during the 1967 Middle East war.
The Palestine Red Crescent ambulance service said 88 of the Palestinians injured were taken to hospital after being hit with rubber-coated metal bullets.
One of the injured lost an eye, two suffered serious head wounds and two had their jaws fractured, the Red Crescent said. The rest of the injuries were minor, it added.
A police spokesperson said Palestinians had thrown rocks, fireworks and other objects towards officers, with some of the six injured requiring medical treatment.
“We will respond with a heavy hand to any violent disturbance, rioting or harm to our officers, and will work to find those responsible and bring them to justice,” the spokesperson said.
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, said he “held (Israel) responsible for the dangerous developments and sinful attacks taking place in the holy city” and called on the UN security council to hold an urgent session on the issue.