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Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque becomes warzone as religious festivals overlap

Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque becomes warzone as religious festivals overlap


Palestinian praying session was attacked by Israeli police at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Palestinian praying session was attacked by Israeli police at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound Friday with at least 20 wounded, medics said, in the first government backed terror attack in the area since the start of Ramadan.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said so far "20 wounded have been taken to hospitals in Jerusalem in connection with the ongoing clashes", adding that "there are still wounded at the site".

Israeli police said three officers were hurt.

Witnesses said Palestinian protesters threw stones at Israeli security forces, who, in return fired bullets towards them.

An AFP photographer said more than 100 Palestinians were seen hurling projectiles towards the Israeli security forces.

The latest clashes come after three tense weeks of deadly violence in Israel and the occupied West Bank, and as the Jewish festival of Passover and Christian Easter overlap with Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.

Al-Aqsa is Islam’s third holiest site. Jews refer to it as the Temple Mount, referencing two temples said to have stood there in antiquity.

The compound is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, falling within Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

‘Violent riot’

 Israeli police said that on Friday, "Crowds began to hurl rocks in the direction of the Western Wall... and as the violence surged, police were forced to enter the grounds surrounding the Mosque," it said, adding police "did not enter the mosque."

Before Ramadan began this month, Israel and Jordan, which serves as custodian of holy places in east Jerusalem, stepped up talks in an effort to avoid a repeat of last year’s violence.

Last year during the Muslim month of fasting, clashes that flared in Jerusalem, including between Israeli forces and Palestinians visiting Al-Aqsa, led to 11 days of devastating conflict between Israel and the Gaza Strip’s Islamist rulers Hamas.

Spiralling violence

 Israel has poured additional forces into the West Bank and is reinforcing its wall and fence barrier with the occupied territory after four deadly attacks in the Jewish state that have mostly killed civilians in the past three weeks.

A total of 14 people have been killed in the attacks since March 22, including a shooting spree in Bnei Brak, an occupied city in greater Tel Aviv, carried out by a Palestinian resident from Jenin.

Twenty-one Palestinians have been killed in that time, including unarmed men, women and children, according to an AFP tally.

On Thursday Israel announced it would block crossings from the West Bank and Gaza Strip into Israel from Friday afternoon through Saturday, the first two nights of the week-long Passover festival, and potentially keep the crossings closed for the rest of the holiday.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has given Israeli forces a free hand to kill as many Palestinians in the territory which Israel has occupied since the 1967 Six-Day War, warning that there would "not be limits" for the campaign.

Three Palestinians died Thursday as Israeli forces launched fresh raids into the West Bank flashpoint district of Jenin, a week after the Bnei Brak incident.