Relative calm returned to the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem on Monday afternoon, with police withdrawing after hours of clashes and Palestinian protesters at the site declaring victory.
The clashes began in the early hours of the morning, as contentious Jerusalem Day events to mark Israel's "reunification" of the capital after the 1967 Six-Day War gounderway.
Although the police on Sunday gave the go-ahead to Israeli nationalists to parade through the Old City in an annual flag-waving display, the event also appeared to be doubt Monday due to daily riots at the site over the past week.
The clashes in Jerusalem initially began weeks ago, when police blocked the plaza outside the Damascus Gate entrance to the Old City, a popular gathering spot for Jerusalem's Palestinian residents during the holy month of Ramadan. The barriers were removed after prolonged protests.
The tensions were compounded by growing anger over the potential eviction of several Palestinian families from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and a spate of attacks on ultra-Orthodox Jews in the city by young Palestinians, which were then posted on the TikTok social media site.
Despite heavy police presence at the site Monday morning, clashes erupted once again shortly after 8am, with Palestinians hurling stones at officers, who responded by firing stun grenades.
Police said protesters threw stones from the al-Aqsa Mosque compound on the Temple Mount onto an adjoining roadway. Palestinians reported stun grenades fired into the mosque compound, with dozens injured.
Palestinian medics said at least 215 Palestinians were hurt in the violence at the al-Aqsa compound, including 153 who were hospitalized. "There are wounded people who suffered direct damage from rubber bullets to their heads," said the spokesperson for the Red Cross.
Israel Police said at least 16 officers were wounded, including one who was hospitalized.
Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai earlier Monday confirmed that Jews would not be able to ascend to the the Temple Mount on Jerusalem Day in order to avoid provocation.
"We will continue to allow the freedom of worship, but we will not allow any disturbances," the police said in a statement.
The Jerusalem branch of Hamas on Monday morning called for Palestinians to keep fighting at the site.
"What is happening at al-Aqsa - the breach of a house of prayer and attack on the worshipers and those within it - is a religious war being waged by Israel. This is proof of the cruelty of the Zionist occupation," the group said.
"We are calling on our compatriots to keep resisting this breach. Israel will pay a high price for the attack on the Al-Aqsa and the worshipers."
The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel also condemned what it called "the invasion of the al-Aqsa Mosque by the occupation forces and the brutal attack on worshipers there."
The umbrella organization also said that it held "the Netanyahu government" responsible for "which aimed to inflame the area and ignite a bloody religious war."
The Jerusalem Day march marks Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem, home to the Old City and its sensitive holy sites, from Jordan in the 1967 war.
The annual flag parade is perceived as provocative, as nationalist Israelis guarded by police march through the Muslim Quarter to the Western Wall, in a move meant to cement Israeli claims to the area. Last year's parade was cancelled due to the pandemic.
This year's march was set to begin at 4pm Monday on King George Street and follow two routes.
One group of marchers was to enter the Old City via the Damascus Gate, the recent site of repeated clashes between police and Palestinians, go through the Muslim Quarter and end at the Western Wall.
The second group was to enter the Old City via the Jaffa Gate and from there continue down to the Western Wall.
Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amos Gilead, a former high-ranking IDF and Defense Ministry official, told Army Radio on Sunday that this year's parade should be canceled or rerouted away from the Damascus Gate.
“The powder keg is burning and can explode at any time,” he said.
First published: 08:43, 05.10.21