Israeli-Arab party Raam threatens to quit government over Al Aqsa Mosque violence

Israel's ruling coalition in danger of losing power as Muslim anger mounts over incursions into holy site in Jerusalem

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Israel's fragile governing coalition is facing another split after the Arab-Israeli party Raam “suspended” its membership following violence at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem at the weekend when more than 170 Palestinians were injured.

The coalition, which includes a disparate mix of left-wing, hardline Jewish nationalist and religious parties, had already lost its majority this month when a religious Jewish member resigned in a dispute over leavened bread distribution at hospitals.

Incursions by Israeli security forces at Al Aqsa, Islam's third holiest site, on Friday and Sunday have now put Raam under pressure to leave the coalition.

“If the government continues its steps against the people of Jerusalem … we will resign as a bloc,” the party said on Sunday.

The announcement came hours after more than 20 Palestinians and Israelis were wounded in incidents in and around the Al Aqsa Mosque compound.

The latest violence comes at a tense time as the Jewish week-long Passover festival coincides with the fasting month of Ramadan and follows a spate of violence in Israel and the occupied West Bank in which 36 people have been killed starting in late March.

More than 150 people were injured when Israeli security forces entered Al Aqsa on Friday and used teargas, rubber bullets, stun grenades and batons against worshippers. Further violence was sparked on Sunday when police escorted a group of Jews to the site.

Jews are allowed to visit but not to pray at the site, the holiest place in Judaism.

Israeli police said its forces had entered the compound to remove demonstrators and “re-establish order".

The Palestinian Red Crescent said 19 Palestinians were injured, including at least five who were taken to hospital. It said some had been wounded with rubber-coated steel bullets.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the security forces “continue to receive a free hand … for any action that will provide security to the citizens of Israel”, while stressing every effort should be made to allow members of all religions to worship in Jerusalem.

The violence has been widely condemned across the region. King Abdullah II of Jordan on Sunday called on Israel to “stop all illegal and provocative measures” that drive “further aggravation".

The kingdom serves as custodian of holy places in East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in 1967 and later annexed in a move not recognised by most of the international community.

Senior Palestinian official Hussein Al Sheikh said on Sunday that “Israel's dangerous escalation in the Al Aqsa compound … is a blatant attack on our holy places”, and called on the international community to intervene.

The chief of the Hamas Islamist movement, which controls the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, had earlier warned Israel that “Al Aqsa is ours and ours alone".

Al Aqsa Mosque

“Our people have the right to access it and pray in it, and we will not bow down to repression and terror,” Ismail Haniyeh said.

The violence raises fears of another full-blown Israeli-Palestinian conflict after similar incidents during Ramadan last year contributed to a 11-day Israel-Gaza war.

Weeks of mounting tensions led to two recent deadly attacks by Palestinians in or near the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv, alongside mass arrests by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank.

On Monday, Israeli troops shot and wounded two Palestinians after an arrest raid in the occupied West Bank.

The Israeli military said it arrested 11 Palestinians in operations across the territory overnight, AP reported.

In a raid in the village of Yamun, near the city of Jenin, the army said dozens of Palestinians hurled rocks and explosives at troops.

Soldiers “responded with live ammunition” towards “suspects who hurled explosive devices”, the military said.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said two men were taken to hospital after being critically wounded.

Turkey's president calls to 'end the Israeli escalation'

Israel has carried out a wave of arrest raids and other operations in recent weeks that it said was aimed at preventing further attacks after Palestinian assailants killed at least 14 people inside Israel.

Two of the attackers came from in and around Jenin, which has long been a bastion of armed struggle against Israeli rule.

Twenty-five Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in recent weeks, according to an AP count. An unarmed woman and a lawyer who appears to have been a bystander were also among them.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a call on Sunday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said he would contact all sides and appeal them to “end the Israeli escalation”, Mr Abbas's office said in a statement.

Pope Francis prayed for peace as Christians celebrated Easter on Sunday, including at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem where they believe Jesus died and was resurrected.

“May Israelis, Palestinians and all who dwell in the Holy City, together with the pilgrims … dwell in fraternity and enjoy free access to the holy places in mutual respect for the rights of each,” the Pope said in his Easter address.

Updated: April 18, 2022, 3:29 PM
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