JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli police and Palestinians clashed outside Jerusalem’s flashpoint al-Aqsa mosque Friday and at least 35 people were injured, Israeli police and Palestinian medical workers said.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israeli forces of “provocation” and “crossing red lines” in an effort to derail a resumption of peace negotiations expected shortly under U.S. mediation. In a statement, Abbas appealed to Washington to hold Israel back to prevent a “war of religion” in the Middle East.
Israel’s security minister blamed Abbas’s Islamist rivals Hamas for fomenting the trouble. It started after weekly prayers at the third holiest site in Islam, in an area that Jews also revere as the site of their biblical Temple.
Muslim worshippers staging a protest after prayers against an Israeli government plan to include holy sites in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem in an Israeli national heritage plan flew Hamas flags and threw stones at police who had taken up positions in the compound surrounding the al-Aqsa mosque.
Several witnesses, including a Reuters journalist, said squads of police fired stun grenades to disperse several dozen youths. Five people were arrested, said police, who also said Palestinians threw stones at Jews worshipping at the Western Wall, below the compound housing the mosque.
A statement from Abbas’s office said, “The Palestinian presidency urged the U.S. administration to stop the Israeli adventure, which could ignite a war of religion in the region.”
Palestinian medical workers said at least 17 Palestinians were injured by tear gas and rubber-coated metal bullets, one seriously. A police spokesman said 18 police officers were lightly hurt in the clashes, six needing hospital treatment.
Tensions have been high at the holy site, which includes al-Aqsa mosque and the landmark, gilded Dome of the Rock. Jews call the area the Temple Mount and Muslims refer to it as the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary.
A 14-year-old Palestinian was hit in the head by a rubber bullet during a protest at Israel’s building of a barrier at Nabi Saleh near Ramallah, a protest leader said. A Palestinian medical source said the youth was in a serious condition.
An Israeli army spokeswoman said three people had been hit in clashes at Nabi Saleh. She said troops used rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades against people throwing stones.
Palestinian residents of the southern West Bank town of Hebron said soldiers fired tear gas and stun grenades during a confrontation with Palestinians after prayers at the city’s main Abraham mosque, a site also holy to Jews.
Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta, Tom Perry and Ari Rabinovitch; Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Louise Ireland and Alastair Macdonald