At least 31 Palestinians were injured in clashes with Israeli police at Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem on Friday, Palestinian medics said, the latest outbreak in a recent upsurge of violence at a site revered by Muslims and Jews alike.
The Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance service said 14 Palestinians had been taken to hospital, two with serious injuries.
Israeli police said its forces intervened when hundreds of people began hurling rocks and fireworks and drew close to the Western Wall, where Jewish worship was underway.
Reuters witnesses said police entered the compound after the morning prayers and fired rubber-tipped bullets and stun grenades at a crowd of about 200 Palestinians, some of whom were throwing rocks. Police also fired rubber-tipped bullets from a close range at a group of journalists documenting the clashes, the witnesses said.
An upsurge of violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories in recent weeks has raised fears of a relapse into a broader conflict, like last year’s Gaza war.
Since March Israeli forces have killed at least 29 Palestinians in West Bank raids, the Palestinian health ministry said, and a series of deadly Arab street attacks have killed 14 people in Israel, Israeli police and medics said.
Last Friday, more than 150 Palestinians and several Israeli police officers were injured in similar clashes at Al-Aqsa, Palestinian medics and Israeli police said.
The conduct of Israeli security forces that day “raises serious concerns that the use of force was widespread, unnecessary and indiscriminate,” a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement.
Tensions this year have been heightened in part by the Muslim holy month of Ramazan coinciding with the Jewish celebration of Passover, which brings more Muslim and Jewish visitors to the compound, the holiest in Judaism.
Palestinians accuse Israel of restricting Muslim worship at Al-Aqsa mosque – the third holiest site in Islam and known to Jews as the Temple Mount – while not doing enough to enforce a long-standing ban on Jewish prayerthere. Israel rejects this accusation.
As in previous years, Israel is halting Jewish visits during the final days of Ramadan, starting Friday, an Israeli official said. Traditionally, Muslim attendance at the compound increases during the final days of the fasting month.
Al-Aqsa compound sits atop the Old City plateau of East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in a 1967 war and annexed in a move that has not won international recognition.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a state they seek to establish in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.