The attack in Elad, Israel, on Thursday followed Several weeks of clashes Between Palestinians and Israeli police at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, days after an armed Palestinian leader urged Arabs to “equip cleavers, axes and knives” in response to police interventions at the site.
Al-Aqsa Mosque is one of the holiest places in Islam and a symbol of Palestinian patriotism. Known as the Temple Mount to Jews, the area is the site of two ancient temples and the holiest place in Judaism.
Clashes there erupted repeatedly during the recent holy month of Ramadan, as Palestinians attempted to block what they feared were attempts to undermine Muslim access and oversight at the site, and Israeli police made what they described as counter-terrorism efforts to keep the site safe. It is available to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
The Israeli authorities say there has been no change to the long-standing arrangements at the site, and there are no plans to change them. However, in recent months, Israeli police have regularly allowed Jewish prayers at the site, reversing a decades-old agreement banning them and angering Palestinians.
During the recent violence, Palestinians usually threw stones and fired fireworks at police, while the police fired sponge-covered bullets and tear gas.
On Saturday, Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar warned that any further police raids inside the compound would prompt a response from the group and urged Arab residents of Israel to “equip cleavers, axes and knives.”
Tensions were expected at the site on Thursday, Israel’s Independence Day, because some ultra-nationalist groups called on Israelis to enter the compound carrying Israeli flags in an affirmation of Israeli sovereignty over the site. Al-Aqsa Mosque is located in East Jerusalem, which Israel considers part of its capital and considered occupied by most countries of the world.
But tensions at the site on Thursday were actually lower than in recent weeks, save for a short series of scuffles that lasted less than five minutes.
Police instructed Israeli visitors not to raise Israeli flags, and confiscated at least one flag after an Israeli woman tried to raise it on the mosque grounds.
Violence erupted briefly around 7:50 am, when a Palestinian cut off the path of a group of Israeli visitors, Show video. The man was quickly arrested during a brief altercation, and the police imposed a loose cordon between Israeli and Palestinian civilians.
Two minutes later, another brawl broke out between the police and the Palestinians, during which Palestinians threw four plastic chairs, and a group of Palestinians ran to the main mosque on the site and barricaded itself inside. Over the next three minutes, several explosions were heard, but it was not clear whether it was gunshots fired by the police or fireworks fired by Palestinians.
Police later said the Palestinians had thrown stones and firecrackers, though none of them appeared in the video at the time.
Police officers briefly opened one of the mosque’s doors and stood inside the doorstep for less than a minute. But the atmosphere calmed down within five minutes, and dozens of Muslims prayed all morning on the balcony outside the main mosque.
Despite the relative calm, Palestinian leaders reacted sharply.
The Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Ministry described the police’s actions at the site as “an official Israeli declaration of a religious war that would ignite the entire region.”
Hamas, the armed group that controls Gaza, later issued a statement calling it a “dangerous escalation, direct provocation and portent of a comprehensive explosion.”