Weeks of sporadic violence between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem intensified on Friday evening at a sacred religious site for Muslims and Jews, as the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan nears.
Israeli police in riot gear confronted crowds of Muslim worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites. Worshippers threw rocks and chairs at police, who fired rubber-coated bullets and stun grenades.
Palestinian medics said more than 20 Palestinians were hospitalized, most with injuries to the eyes and the face. There were reports of many more people with less serious injuries. The Palestinian Red Crescent emergency service said 136 people were wounded in clashes, the Associated Press reported; Israel said six police officers were injured.
Earlier in the day, Israeli settlers and Palestinians clashed on a street in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah where Palestinian families are fighting a court-ordered eviction.
A long-running legal battle over the occupation has reignited conflict in recent days. Israel’s Supreme Court is expected to make a ruling next week on whether to evict the Palestinian residents from properties Jewish settlers are claiming as their own.
The United Nations called on Israel to halt all evictions in the neighborhood.
The U.S. is urging calm. The State Department said it was “deeply concerned about the heightened tensions,” and the evictions of Palestinian families.
“It is critical to avoid unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions or take us further away from peace,” a department spokesperson said in a statement. “As we head into a sensitive period in the days ahead, it will be critical for all sides to ensure calm and act responsibly to deescalate tensions and avoid violent confrontations.”
Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the intrusion on the mosque and called on Israeli police to preserve Palestinians’ rights to practice their sacred religious rituals. Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Hafez said the illegal threats to Palestinian-occupied territory “represents a violation of international law, undermining the chances of reaching a two-state solution, and threatening the foundations of security and stability in the region.”
The violence threatens to spill into Sunday’s “Night of Destiny,” the holiest night in the Islamic calendar, when worshippers will congregate at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. It’s also the beginning of Jerusalem Day, a national holiday for Israelis.
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