JERUSALEM – Israel braced for more protests Saturday after clashes at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound wounded more than 200 people and as the US, EU and regional powers urged calm after days of escalating violence.
In the unrest following prayers on Friday, Israeli riot police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades at Palestinians who hurled rocks, bottles and fireworks at Islam’s third-holiest site which is also revered by Jews.
Palestinian Red Crescent reported that 205 Palestinians were injured in the violence at Al-Aqsa and across annexed east Jerusalem.
Video footage showed Israeli forces storming the mosque’s sprawling plaza and firing sound grenades inside the building, where throngs of worshippers including women and children were praying on the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The clashes came after tensions soared in recent weeks, over Israeli restrictions on access to parts of the Old City during Ramadan and the threat of eviction hanging over four Palestinian families in east Jerusalem to make way for Jewish settlers.
A call for demonstrations Saturday in solidarity with Jerusalem Palestinians came from an advocacy group for Arab Israelis, who make up 20 percent of the country’s population, the High Follow up Committee for the Arabs in Israel.
The United States — a staunch Israeli ally whose tone has however toughened under US President Joe Biden — said it was “extremely concerned” by the events and urged both sides to “avoid steps that exacerbate tensions or take us farther away from peace”.
“This includes evictions in east Jerusalem, settlement activity, home demolitions and acts of terrorism,” the State Department said.
The European Union called on the authorities “to act urgently to de-escalate the current tensions in Jerusalem,” saying “violence and incitement are unacceptable and the perpetrators on all sides must be held accountable”.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said he held the Israeli government “responsible” for the unrest and voiced “full support for our heroes in Al-Aqsa”.
Jordan condemned Israel’s “barbaric attack” in Jerusalem, calling on the international community to stop the “escalation and violations” at Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Qatar and Bahrain also blasted Israeli forces for the confrontation.