JERUSALEM - Celebrating the final week of Ramadan, thousands of Palestinian worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque gathered for prayer time on Friday. Soon after Israeli forces stormed the worshippers using tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber-coated bullets.
According to Israeli police, some worshippers had begun protesting the eviction of Palestinians whose homes have been allocated for Jewish settlements.
According to The Jerusalem Post quoting the Red Crescent, 205 Palestinians suffered injuries, with one losing an eye, two suffering serious head wounds, and another 2 having their jaws fractured.
Footage showed Israeli security forces firing a stun grenade into al-Aqsa Mosque, The 'Post reported KAN News as saying. 'Police were then seen locking the doors of the mosque while worshipers were still inside, according to KAN News,' said The Jerusalem Post report.
Jerusalem has been on edge all week following an order by an Israeli court that Palestinian families in East Jerusalem should be evicted to make way for an Israeli settlement.
Israeli police claim some of the worshippers were protesting the court order and they acted to shut the protests down. In the process, in addition to the injuries of the 205 Palestinians, according to The Jerusalem Post report, eighteen police officers were injured, half of whom had to be treated in hospital.
It is reported that hundreds of thousands of Muslims from across the occupied Palestinian territories travelled to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque in the final week of the holy month of Ramadan. 'Following prayers, some worshippers began chanting in support of Sheikh Jarrah residents through the streets of the Old City. Israeli police responded by using sound grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets to violently disperse crowds that included women and children,' the Afro-Palestine Newswire reported.
'When people retreated to the Al-Aqsa compound, Israeli police then entered and attempted to clear the area that still contained thousands of Palestinians.'
'Videos that emerged on Friday night showed grenades being thrown at worshippers while they prayed. Several areas within the Al-Aqsa compound were tear-gassed while people were trapped inside. Many hid inside Al-Aqsa mosque, where they remained trapped for hours as Israeli police cut electricity lines to force them to evacuate,' the Afro-Palestine report said.
'Emergency services were still trying to assess the injuries and restore calm to the civilians still coming to grips with what happened.'
'Palestinians called for a 'Day of Rage' on Saturday in response to the unprecedented crackdown on the holy site and its worshippers during the holy month of Ramadan,' the report added.
Israel admitted it had sent police and Israeli army reinforcements to Jerusalem for Friday's prayers, said The Jerusalem Post report.
"Police troops began using riot control measures a while ago, in an attempt to restore order after violent riots broke out at the Temple Mount, during which hundreds of suspects started throwing rocks, bottles and other items toward our forces," an Israeli police statement said.
"We will not allow the disruption of order, any form of violence, and attempts to harm officers while taking advantage of the freedom of religion and using it to promote a violent incident that includes hundreds of worshipers starting to riot and hurting police officers," the police statement said.
Yair Lapid, an Israeli politician trying to establish a new coalition government to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, sent a message to the police. "The state of Israel will not let violence run loose and definitely will not allow terror groups to threaten it," he posted on Twitter. "Whoever wants to harm us must know that he will pay a heavy price."
On Saturday night, more than 100 Palestinians suffered injuries from 'rubber bullets, stun grenades and beatings,' according to Palestinian reports. The Palestinian Red Crescent claimed that Israeli security forces prevented ambulances from reaching the Damascus Gate area to treat the wounded, The Jerusalem Post reported.
Meantime on the Israeli-Gaza border on Saturday night 3 Palestinians were shot in the legs by Israeli snipers, a separate Jerusalem Post report said. The shooting of Gazans in the legs by Israeli snipers, according to Amnesty International, is aimed at crippling them.
Over 90,000 worshippers gathered at Al-Aqsa on Saturday night, amid the clashes, according to Palestinian media, the 'Post report said.
On Sunday morning fresh clashes occurred and more injuries.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE have condemned the storming of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the eviction of Palestinian families to make way for an Israeli settlement. The condemnation from the UAE is particularly notable as the country only recently re-established diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.
"Khalifa Shaheen Almarar, Minister of State, expressed the UAE's deep concern over the violence in occupied East Jerusalem and its strong condemnation of the storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the displacement of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, which resulted in the injury of a number of civilians," an official statement from the UAE government carried by WAM on Saturday said.
"He stressed that the UAE strongly condemns the Israeli authorities' storming of the Holy Al-Aqsa Mosque, stressing the need for the Israeli authorities to assume their responsibilities - in accordance with the rules of international law - to protect Palestinian civilians' right to practice their religion, and to prevent practices that violate the sanctity of the Holy Al-Aqsa Mosque."
"The Minister of State called on the Israeli authorities to take responsibility for de-escalation, to end all attacks and practices that lead to continued tension, and to preserve the historical identity of occupied Jerusalem, while exercising calm and maximum restraint to prevent an escalation of threats to regional peace and stability," the UAE statement said.
The United States conversely described Friday night's violence as an attack by Palestinian worshippers on Israeli forces, and the Israeli security forces' actions as 'reciprocal.' The state department however condemned the violence on both sides.
"There is no excuse for violence, but such bloodshed is especially disturbing now, coming as it does on the last days of Ramadan. This includes Fridays attack on Israeli soldiers and reciprocal price tag attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank, which we condemn in no uncertain terms," the U.S. State Department said in a statement.