At least 305 Palestinians, including medics, have been injured as Israeli police fired tear gas and stun grenades at rock-throwing protesters in a wave of unrest that rocked Jerusalem’s Old City.
It comes amid major fears that violence will escalate through Monday, which is also “Jerusalem Day”, an annual celebration marking Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem and the walled Old City during the 1967 war in the Middle East. Many Palestinians regard it as a provocation and it is often a flashpoint event.
But this year it comes after weeks of tension around Haram ash-Sharif or Temple Mount, the volcanic core of the conflict, that have seen world leaders and the United Nations appeal for calm.
The violence also comes against the backdrop of an expected imminent Israeli order for the eviction of Palestinian families in a nearby Jerusalem neighbourhood. An Israeli court was supposed to rule on this on Monday, but the hearing was postponed due to the mounting violence.
The United Nations has said any eviction could amount to a war crime.
But even before that, the city has been overrun by trouble that has seen Israeli security forces repeatedly storm the al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third most holy site, sparking the fury of Israel’s Arab allies and a global outcry.
On Monday mobile phone images shared online showed Israeli forces firing stun grenades and tear gas again inside the al-Aqsa compound. Eyewitnesses claim the doors of the mosque were closed at the start, preventing the injured from leaving.
Police defended their actions, saying protesters had hurled stones at officers and onto an adjoining roadway near the Western Wall, where thousands of Israeli Jews had gathered to pray.
In one particularly graphic video, Palestinian youths are seen hurling rocks at an Israeli car and trying to rip open the car doors. The driver appears to lose control of his vehicle and crash into a small wall, running over a young man, who is believed to be critically injured.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said that at least 305 Palestinians were hurt in the violence at the al-Aqsa mosque compound, including 228 who were hospitalised.
Mohammed Fityani, a PRC spokesperson, told The Independent that among the injured were two Red Crescent medics: one who had been shot in the abdomen by a rubber bullet and the other who had been beaten up by Israeli security forces with sticks and hands.
“We have faced a lot of obstacles trying to reach the wounded,” Fityani said.
In a statement, Israeli police alleged extremists were behind the violence, and said they would not allow them “to harm the safety and security of the public”.
Major General Ghasan Alyan, commander of the Unit for the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), a military agency, said: “Israel will not stand for any disruption of the safety, the law and order, and the stability of security”.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, accused the global media of reporting “erroneously and misleadingly” on the situation in Jerusalem.
In a statement, he said: “We insist on ensuring the rights of everyone. This occasionally requires taking a strong stand, as the officers of the Israel Police, and our security forces, are doing at the moment ... Of course, these things are being expressed erroneously and misleadingly in the global media. In the end, truth will win but we must constantly reiterate it.”
The site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram ash-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, is considered the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam.
The compound is the epicentre of the conflict and has been the trigger for rounds of Israeli-Palestinian violence over the decades.
At the mosque, a volunteer Palestinian medic, who asked not to be named for security reasons, told The Independent the Israelis had used an “unusual amount of force”. “They want to show that they have control of Jerusalem because of the last few weeks, and they want to do that on al-Aqsa,” he said.
“More than 1000 soldiers attacked al-Aqsa , hitting people mostly on the face and their head with rubber bullets. They are using force to say something.”
Earlier, police barred Jews from visiting the al-Aqsa compound on Monday, when Israelis will celebrate the day with a flag-waving parade through the Old City and its Muslim Quarter to the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray.
Israel captured East Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in the 1967 war.
The country later de jure annexed East Jerusalem, home to the city’s most sensitive holy sites, and considers the entire city its capital.
The Palestinians seek all three areas for a future state, with East Jerusalem as their capital.
World leaders and bodies alarmed by the surge in violence have urged calm.
Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN secretary-general, expressed his “deep concern” over the violence and urged Israeli authorities to exercise “maximum restraint”.