JERUSALEM — Clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters broke out Monday morning at the Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, a site sacred to both Muslims and Jews, after a week of rising tension in the city. Police fired rubber-tipped bullets and stun grenades at stone-throwing Palestinians who had stockpiled stones at the site in expectation of a standoff with Jewish far-right groups.
By midmorning, hundreds had been wounded and more than 50 transferred to the hospital, according to a representative of the Palestinian Red Crescent. One person was hit in the head by a bullet and was in a critical condition, the medical aid group said.
Tensions were expected to rise further as the day progressed, with thousands of far-right Israelis scheduled to march provocatively through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City on Monday afternoon to mark the capture of East Jerusalem during the Arab-Israeli war in 1967, an anniversary known in Israel as Jerusalem Day. Israel subsequently annexed that part of the city, a move that most of the world has not recognized. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
The day is always fraught in Jerusalem. But the atmosphere was especially febrile on Monday because the confrontations followed weeks of escalating tensions in the city, where restrictions on Palestinian access to the Old City during the holy month of Ramadan, a far-right march through the city center in April, and street assaults by both Jews and Arabs have all contributed to a feverish atmosphere.
In recent days, pressure rose further as protest protests grew over the looming expulsion of several Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem. For Palestinians and their advocates, the case has become a stand-in for the wider campaign to force out Palestinians from parts of East Jerusalem and for their past displacement in the occupied territories and within Israel.
Tensions escalated again Friday night, as the police fired rubber-tipped bullets and stun grenades and Palestinians threw stones following prayers at the Aqsa compound. Video showed some grenades landing inside the mosque.
Militants in Gaza fired rockets into Israel overnight Sunday, after sending incendiary balloons into Israeli farmland for the past several days. Israel has returned fire, barred fishermen from the territory from accessing the sea and shut a key crossing between Gaza and Israel — but avoided a major escalation.
The tensions were compounded when a Palestinian killed an Israeli in a drive-by shooting in the occupied West Bank last week, setting off a manhunt by the Israeli Army in the West Bank and raids on Palestinian homes. Israeli soldiers later shot dead a Palestinian teenager in a separate incident.
A court decision on the families’ evictions in East Jerusalem, scheduled for Monday, was postponed on Sunday, in part to diffuse these rising tensions. The Israeli police also made a last-minute decision Monday morning to block Jews from accessing the Aqsa compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.
But clashes broke out anyway, and were expected to escalate throughout the day.
Myra Noveck contributed reporting.