Hundreds of Palestinians injured in clashes at Al Aqsa Mosque

Palestinian Red Crescent emergency service said most injuries were from rubber bullets and stun grenades fired by Israeli riot police

More than 200 people were wounded after Israeli riot police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades at Palestinian worshippers at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, in an escalation of weeks of violence in Jerusalem that has reverberated across the region.

The Palestinian Red Crescent emergency service said 205 people were injured in clashes with police there and elsewhere in Jerusalem, including near the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, late on Friday night.

The Red Crescent said it had opened a field hospital because emergency rooms were full.

Most of the injuries were to the face and eyes, caused by rubber-coated bullets and shrapnel from stun grenades, it said. One person lost an eye, two suffered serious head wounds and two had their jaws fractured.

Israel said 17 police officers were wounded.

The US said it "is extremely concerned about ongoing confrontations in Jerusalem ... which have reportedly resulted in scores of injured people".

"There is no excuse for violence, but such bloodshed is especially disturbing now, coming as it does on the last days of Ramadan," State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

Mr Price said Washington was calling on Israeli and Palestinian officials to "act decisively to de-escalate tensions and bring a halt to the violence".

And he warned it was "critical" to avoid any steps that could worsen the situation – such as "evictions in East Jerusalem, settlement activity, home demolitions, and acts of terrorism".

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he held Israel responsible "for the dangerous developments and sinful attacks taking place in the holy city" and called on the UN Security Council to hold an urgent session on the issue.

Earlier Friday, Israeli troops shot and killed two Palestinians and wounded a third after the men opened fire on a base belonging to Israel’s paramilitary Border Police force in the occupied West Bank, the latest in a series of deadly confrontations in recent weeks that has coincided with Ramadan.

More unrest appears likely next week.

At the beginning of Ramadan, Israel blocked off access to the Damascus Gate near the Al Aqsa compound, a popular gathering spot where Palestinians traditionally socialise at the end of their day-long fast.

The move set off two weeks of clashes before Israel lifted the restrictions.

The Al Aqsa mosque compound is the third holiest site in Islam.

Israeli police deployed in large numbers as tens of thousands of Palestinians packed into the hilltop compound surrounding the mosque earlier on Friday for prayers.

Many stayed on to protest against the potential evictions of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, which sits near the walled Old City's Damascus Gate.

Following the evening meal that breaks the Ramadan fast, clashes broke out at Al Aqsa with smaller scuffles near Sheikh Jarrah.

Police used water cannon mounted on armoured vehicles to disperse several hundred protesters gathered near the homes of families facing eviction.

"If we don't stand with this group of people here, [evictions] will [come] to my house, her house, his house and to every Palestinian who lives here," protester Bashar Mahmoud, 23, from the nearby Palestinian neighbourhood of Issawiya, told Reuters.

Israel's Supreme Court will hold a hearing on the Sheikh Jarrah evictions on Monday.

International condemnation

Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the timing of the Israeli actions showed a deliberate attempt to provoke Palestinians during Ramadan.

The EU also issued a statement, highlighting concern over the possible evictions.

"Acts of incitement around Haram Al Sharif must be avoided and the status quo has to be respected", the EU said.

"The situation with regard to the evictions of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah and other areas of East Jerusalem is also of serious concern," it said.

The spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also condemned the evictions, saying that "if ordered and implemented" they would "violate Israel's obligations under international law".

In the region, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and Jordan also issued strongly worded statements.

UAE Minister of State Khalifa Al Marar said that the UAE "expresses its grave concern about the violence that took place in occupied East Jerusalem and strongly condemns the storming of the Al Aqsa Mosque and the displacement of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, which resulted in the injury of a number of civilians."

Bahrain's foreign ministry said that "Israel’s plan to evict people from Jerusalem violates the resolutions of international legitimacy, and undermines the chances of resuming the peace process to achieve security and stability in the region."

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi condemned Israel's "provocative steps in occupied Jerusalem and violation of Palestinian rights, including the rights of the people of Sheikh Jarrah in their homes, is playing with fire."

Saudi Arabia said that Israel's actions in East Jerusalem would be "unilateral" and that evictions would be an attempt to "impose Israel's sovereignty".

Egypt's foreign ministry also warned that the evictions would violate "international humanitarian law."

Updated: May 9, 2021 10:32 PM

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