Palestinian terror groups threatened Israel Friday night after intense clashes broke out between police and Palestinian worshipers at the Temple Mount’s Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Hamas leader Ismael Haniyeh said that Israel would “pay a price” for the clashes at the mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites. The hilltop on which it sits is the holiest place in the world for Jews as the site of the two biblical temples — making it a flashpoint for nationalist sentiment and violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
“We tell [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu: don’t play with fire. This is a battle that you cannot win. Israeli arrogance and tyranny will be smashed on the stones of the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” Haniyeh said.
Israeli police burst into the Al-Aqsa compound on Friday evening after Palestinians threw rocks and bottles at officers, as widespread clashes in Jerusalem spread to the holy site following prayers held there on the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Video from the scene showed pitched battles, with Palestinians throwing chairs, shoes, rocks and bottles and shooting fireworks, and police responding with stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets. At least six officers were wounded, police said. One officer was in moderate-to-serious condition after being hit in the head with a rock.
According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, 178 Palestinians were wounded in clashes with Israeli security forces across Jerusalem. Some 88 Palestinians were hospitalized, mostly with injuries with rubber-tipped bullets to their face and eyes, the Red Crescent said.
“The enemy is acting foolishly in Jerusalem, and they don’t realize what the results will be,” Haniyeh added.
On official Palestinian Authority television, PA President Mahmoud Abbas blamed Israel for what he deemed “vicious aggression” in the Al-Aqsa compound.
“We hold the Israeli occupation government absolutely responsible for what is happening in the holy city in terms of dangerous developments, vicious aggression, and what may result from it,” Abbas said.
“The ruthlessness of the settlers only increases our insistence on claiming our legitimate rights: the end of the occupation, the achievement of independence and freedom, and the establishment of our sovereign, independent Palestinian state with its eternal capital Jerusalem,” Abbas added.
Islamic Jihad, a terror group that often fires rockets from Gaza into Israeli territory, also threatened Israel over the Al-Aqsa clashes.
“What’s happening in Jerusalem tonight cannot pass idly by. The enemy can expect our response at any moment,” said Islamic Jihad chief Ziyad al-Nakhaleh.
After capturing East Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967, Israel continued to grant the Waqf, which is funded and controlled by the Jordanian government, near-complete control of the Al-Aqsa Mosque area.
Israeli security forces are present on the mount and work in coordination with the Waqf. Jews are allowed to visit the site, but unlike Muslims they are strictly prohibited from praying on the grounds.
In a statement Friday, the Jordanian Foreign Ministry called for Israel to immediately withdraw its forces from the Temple Mount.
“This is a flagrant violation, condemnable and unacceptable behavior,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Daifullah Fayez said.
Qatar, a key patron of Gaza’s Hamas rulers, also condemned what it called “an invasion” by Israeli forces in the Al-Aqsa Mosque area.
“This is a provocation to the feelings of millions of Muslims around the world,” the Qatari Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Tensions have been rising across Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza for the past several weeks. Israeli yeshiva student Yehuda Guetta was shot in a Palestinian terror attack in the West Bank earlier this week; he died of his wounds on Wednesday night.
A 16-year-old Palestinian teenager, Said Odeh, was shot and killed by Israeli forces near Nablus on Wednesday night, Palestinian health officials said. According to the Israeli military, Odeh was throwing Molotov cocktails at troops.
Earlier Friday, three Palestinian gunmen opened fire on Border Police troops in the northern West Bank. Two of them were killed in the firefight and a third was critically injured. Israeli military officials said the three were en route to carry out a “major” terrorist attack on civilians inside Israel.
At the beginning of Ramadan, Palestinians repeatedly clashed with Israeli police in Jerusalem in protest of restrictions at the Damascus Gate area. Some videos also circulated on Palestinian social media showing young Arab men attacking Ultra-Orthodox passersby.
In response, hundreds of Jewish extremists marched through Jerusalem’s downtown, chanting “Death to Arabs.” Others randomly attacked Palestinians across the city. This then led to severe clashes between police, Jews and Arabs in the city.
In recent days, Palestinians have held demonstrations in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. Over 70 Palestinian residents are threatened with eviction and could be replaced by right-wing Jewish nationalists, in a legal battle being waged in the courts.
On Wednesday, a spokesperson for Islamic Jihad’s armed wing called for Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank to renew attacks against Israelis.
“Rebel against the Zionists, and renew the ramming operations and stabbing at checkpoints and shoot without hesitation in all the squares where the soldiers and settlers are present,” said Abu Hamza, a spokesperson for the terror group’s Al-Quds Brigades.
The United Nations urged Israel on Friday to call off any pending evictions in East Jerusalem, warning that its actions could amount to “war crimes.” Israel dismissed the tensions as a “real estate dispute.”
Abbas and Haniyeh both mentioned the planned eviction of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian neighborhood of East Jerusalem, as a key source of the spiraling tensions.
An Israeli court has ordered the families to leave, as the property was owned by a Jewish religious association before 1948. A 1970 Israeli law allows Jews to reclaim property in East Jerusalem from before it fell into Jordanian hands; no similar law exists for Palestinians.
Palestinians and their supporters have protested the pending evictions every night for the past week. Police have sought to disperse the protests with sound grenades and water cannons, leading to injuries and arrests.
The families have asked the Israeli Supreme Court to consider an appeal, which it is scheduled to do on Monday.
There are growing fears that tensions in Jerusalem could come to a head on Sunday night, Laylat al-Qadr, the most sacred night in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Worshipers will gather for nighttime prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Sunday night is also the start of Jerusalem Day, a national holiday in which Israel celebrates the unification of Jerusalem and religious nationalists hold parades and other celebrations in the city.