At least 57 Palestinian rioters were injured in clashes with Israeli police within the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem on Friday, medics said, as violence persisted during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at a site also revered by Jews.
Israeli police said they intervened when hundreds of people hurled rocks and fireworks and drew close to the Western Wall, where Jewish worship was underway. A policewoman was injured by a stone and a tree was set alight by the fireworks, police said.
Rioting began about an hour after the end of the noon prayer. After the prayers seemed to have passed quietly, about 450 Muslims, including masked men, marched in the direction of the police station on the Temple Mount and threw stones at it, which forced police to drop tear gas from a drone to disperse the crowd.
Meanwhile, the police said they had arrested a suspect from the Islamist Hizb ut-Tahrir movement for allegedly inciting a crowd of worshipers on the Temple Mount overnight to defend al-Aqsa "and liberate the mosque with weapons and force."
His remarks also fueled chants praising Mohammed Deif, the shadowy leader of Hamas' military wing — the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades.
The rioters prepared for the clashes the night before, setting up fortifications and stockpiling stones and fireworks. The rioters — some of them masked and flying Hamas flags — began rampaging in the early morning hours, and despite the stone-throwing, the police waited for the prayer to end and the faithful left before taking action.
The surge of violence has raised fears of a relapse into a broader conflict like last year's war between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas Islamists ruling the Gaza Strip.
Hamas fighters "have their fingers on the rifle triggers, and we will defend Al-Aqsa mosque with all our might", Hamas official Mushir al-Masri told a rally in northern Gaza.
Since March, 29 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank in a series of counterterrorism raids that followed a flurry of Islamist terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of 14 Israelis.
Tensions this year have been fanned by the fact Ramadan coincided with the Jewish celebration of Passover. That has brought more Muslim and Jewish visitors to the compound, which is a vestige of two ancient Jewish temples.
Palestinians accuse Israel of restricting Muslim worship at al-Aqsa — the third holiest site in Islam — while not doing enough to enforce a long-standing ban on Jewish prayer at the compound. Israel denies this.
As in previous years, Israel is halting Jewish visits during the final days of Ramadan, starting Friday, an Israeli official said.
Al-Aqsa compound sits atop the Old City plateau of East Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their hoped-for future state.