An escalating dispute over metal detectors at a contested Jerusalem shrine turned violent on Friday, setting off widespread clashes between Palestinian rioters and Israeli troops in which rioters threw rocks, flares and Molotov cocktails at Israeli security forces. Three Palestinians were killed and several dozen injured by live rounds, rubber bullets, tear gas and beatings, medics said.
The confrontations in Jerusalem and the West Bank erupted after midday Friday prayers, the highlight of the Muslim religious week. Thousands performed the prayers in the streets, rather than in the shrine, to protest Israel's decision earlier in the week to install metal detectors at the gates to the walled compound.
Mohammed Sharaf, 17, was killed in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al-Amud. Palestinian sources claimed that the teen was shot by a "settler" who also wounded another protestor, but the circumstances are still unclear.
Mohammad Hassan Abu Ghannam, who's in his 20's, was killed in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of At-Tur.
A police spokesman said police had been targeted by flares in At-Tur, putting the lives of officers in danger, and had employed riot disposal means.
The spokesman said police were looking into the circumstances of Abu Ghanam's death.
Mohammed Lafi, 18, was killed in clashes in the town of Abu Dis in the Jerusalem vicinity. He was fatally wounded after being shot in the chest, succumbing to his wounds shortly after being rushed to a nearby hospital.
The Palestinian Red Crescent says 41 Palestinians were taken to hospitals or clinics with injures from live fire, rubber bullets and beatings. About 150 Palestinians were treated for tear gas inhalation.
Four Israeli police officers have been reportedly injured in the clashes after being struck with stones and flares. 17 rioters were arrested after being caught throwing rocks and shooting flares at riot police.
Prior to the reports, minor violent skirmishes broke out against Israeli security forces Friday afternoon in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi al-Joz adjacent to Lions’ Gate, as some 3,000 Muslim worshippers concluded their prayers outside the Al-Aqsa mosque and a handful began hurling trash cans and rocks at the officers.
These clashes were followed by riots throughout the West Bank, with thousands taking to the streets in worryingly escalating violent protests.
The clashes come on the heels of a decision to leave metal detectors outside the entrances of the Temple Mount but in the main, protestors refrained from exhibiting a mass resort to violence.
By 12pm, tensions were palpable as light clashes broke out at the Jaffa Gate between the worshippers and the security forces before being swiftly dispersed.
Near the Damascus Gate, a flashpoint of terror attacks, the atmosphere also provided a foretaste of what was expected as protestors became increasingly agitated with the arrival of public officials who immediately set about inflaming the crowds.
Some 3,000 worshippers also gathered at the Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi al-Joz adjacent to Lions’ Gate while around 400 Palestinians began throwing rocks at security forces at a checkpoint in Qalandiya in north Jerusalem.
Police also repelled an attempt to penetrate by force the block set up at the gate as rioters pelted them with rocks. According to the police, order was also restored shortly thereafter.
Clashes were recorded in Ni'lin, north Sinjil, Ramallah, at Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem, Tuqu' in Gush Etzion and in Hebron.
Thousands of Israeli police officers took up positions at the gates of the Temple Mount ahead of the Friday prayers as they geared up to face expected mass violent protests by worshippers.
The decision to leave the metal detectors in place was reached after protracted discussions held by the Security Cabinet overnight Thursday. They were originally installed there following a deadly terror attack last Friday which claimed the lives of two Israeli officers.
Other steps being taken Friday include the restriction of entry to the Old City and the Temple Mount to men aged 50 and above. Women of all ages will be permitted to enter as usual.
Before the commencement of the Friday prayers the Waqf leaders and senior Islamic officials from east Jerusalem met to discuss what actions should be taken to try and force Israel’s hand.
“We will continue to pray outside the Al-Aqsa mosque as long as the metal detectors are at the gates,” said the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Hussein.
By 1:00pm, a sea of worshippers had amassed outside the mosque, intermittently prostrating themselves as they called out in unison religious chants, with Israeli police forming a human wall watching out for the initial sparks that might presage the explosive clashes. The worshippers concluded their prayers shortly after 1:30pm.
Jordan's and United Arab Emirates foreign ministers urged Israel to respect the status quo and to allow free and unhindered access by the protestor into the mosque. Moreover, they called on the international community to engage in efforts to resolve the crisis.
But the Temple Mount is not only place that Israeli security forces prepared for a confrontation. The IDF also partially implemented a decision taken on Thursday to deploy five additional battalions to the West Bank.