Al Aqsa Mosque: dozens hurt as worshippers gather for Friday prayers

Renewed violence comes despite visit by US officials to defuse Israeli-Palestinian tension in Jerusalem

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Dozens were wounded at Al Aqsa Mosque compound on Friday in confrontations with Israeli police, hours after a visit to Jerusalem by US officials aimed at defusing tension in the city.

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said medics treated at least 31 people at the Old City site, where Muslims had gathered for prayers. Fourteen were taken to hospitals.

Israeli police accused demonstrators of throwing rocks and fireworks at the force but no injuries among officers were reported.

Violence in recent days at Al Aqsa Mosque compound has raised international fears of a wider conflict, after similar incidents a year ago preceded an 11-day war between Israel and Gaza militants.

A US delegation led by senior State Department official Yael Lempert embarked on a Middle East tour this week.

Meeting Israeli officials on Thursday, the US envoys stressed “the importance of upholding the historic status quo at East Jerusalem’s holy places and the unacceptable firing of rockets at Israel”.

Al Aqsa Mosque compound is the third holiest site in Islam and is also revered by Jews.

The US visit comes as religious holidays converge, with Muslims marking Ramadan, Jews celebrating Passover and Christians observing Easter at the Old City’s sacred sites.

Washington has banned its embassy employees and their families from visiting the Old City after dark because of the security situation.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday urged the US envoys to “stop Israel’s aggression”, Palestinian official Hussein Al Sheikh said.

Israel, which has occupied East Jerusalem since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, said it was acting “only in order to prevent violence and to enable prayer to continue as normal”.

Scenes of Israeli riot police using rubber bullets and tear gas at Al Aqsa prompted Jordan, custodian of the site, to convene an emergency meeting of Arab states on Thursday.

The delegates condemned actions by Israeli security forces and called for only Muslims to be allowed to worship at the compound.

Visits by observant Jews, who are not allowed to pray at the site, have continued this week. Such tours are expected to end for the final 10 days of Ramadan, in keeping with previous years.

Events in Jerusalem prompted Israeli nationalists to hold a rally on Wednesday at the edge of the Old City, although they were prevented by police from marching en masse through Palestinian neighbourhoods.

Palestinian medics have treated more than 200 wounded people at Al Aqsa Mosque compound over the past week.

Separately, police said a number of passengers were hurt on Sunday when Israeli buses were stoned by Palestinians near the Old City.

The violence in Jerusalem has been followed this week by militants launching rockets from Gaza for the first time since January, sparking Israeli retaliatory strikes on the Palestinian enclave.

In the occupied West Bank, at least 14 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces this month.

The Israeli military launched a series of raids in the territory after the killing of 14 people in four attacks in Israel over recent weeks. The perpetrators were either Palestinians from the West Bank or Arab Israelis.

Updated: April 23, 2022, 4:48 AM