Al-Aqsa tensions trigger clashes across West Bank
Clashes have consumed large parts of the West Bank as Israel places strict age restrictions on the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Clashes have erupted across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as a result of ongoing confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli forces at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
Along with other Knesset members from the Arab Joint List coalition, Jamal Zahalka was present at the Al-Aqsa compound on Tuesday to protest recent visits to the holy place by Jewish organisations and entry restrictions on Palestinian worshippers.
“We have no problem with Jewish visitors. We have a problem with groups that come to provoke Palestinians,” Zahalka told Al Jazeera, referring to right-wing organisations and settler groups.
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Since Monday morning, Palestinian men under the age of 50 have been barred from visiting the mosque, while women have not faced any age restrictions. The Israeli police spokesman was not available for comment.
The mosque is the third holiest site for Muslims. “It is in occupied territory and Palestinians have a right to defend their places of worship,” Zahalka said.
“We refuse to normalise the visits [by Jewish Israelis] to the mosque because the next step is dividing it,” he said, alluding to the division of Hebron’s al-Ibrahimi Mosque into a Muslim section and a Jewish section.
Palestinian Knesset members called for unity between the West Bank-based Fatah party and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. “We want to see unity on the ground in order to support Al-Aqsa,” Zahalka said.
During the week-long Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which began Sunday evening, many Jews from across the country visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which they refer to as the Temple Mount and regard as a holy site.
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The Temple Mount and Eretz Yisrael Faithful Movement, a hardline Israeli organisation that advocates removing the Al-Aqsa Mosque, has organised a march on the compound for Wednesday morning.
The group published a statement calling on Jews to protect the Temple Mount, which is “in the hands of Israel’s enemies”.
“We will stop the Islamisation of the Temple Mount and the construction of more mosques,” it reads, adding that Israeli police forces will provide the marchers with protection.
In cities and villages across the West Bank, Palestinian shop owners and public institutions held a general strike for two hours in solidarity with Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
On Tuesday evening, Palestinians clashed with Israeli forces in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron and elsewhere. Dozens of injuries were reported, including at least seven wounded in demonstrations near Ramallah.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, an Israeli army spokeswoman said that “hundreds of Palestinians gathered near Ramallah” outside Beit El, a Jewish-only settlement. “A riot took place and Israeli forces responded using riot dispersal means.”
The spokeswoman confirmed that Israeli soldiers used “rubber-coated bullets and 0.22 inch calibre ammunition”, striking seven protesters in “the lower extremities”. She denied the use of live ammunition.
But the Israeli rights group B’Tselem describes 0.22 inch calibre bullets as “live ammunition whose impact is less severe than that of “ordinary’ bullets”, adding that it “can be lethal and inflict serious injuries”.
“There were at least two snipers firing the 0.22 inch calibre bullets at us,” Muhannad Drabee, who was at the protest, told Al Jazeera. “One man was hit and injured, then Israeli forces came and took him from the ambulance and arrested him.”
In Hebron, dozens of Palestinian youth protesting against the restrictions at the Al-Aqsa compound were confronted by Israeli soldiers and settlers in neighbourhoods across the city.
“Clashes are very violent,” Issa Amro, coordinator of the local Youth Against Settlements activist group, told Al Jazeera. He said that Israeli forces “are firing live ammunition at protesters” in some parts of Hebron.
Soldiers in Hebron’s Old City fired stun grenades at protesters and on top of Palestinian homes, he said. Elsewhere, soldiers used rubber-coated steel bullets, reportedly injuring at least two.
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The army spokeswoman said that “violent riots took place in Hebron and [Bethlehem],” but she declined to comment further.
Before dawn on Tuesday, Israeli forces arrested seven Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem for suspected involvement in clashes at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Monday, according to Addameer Prisoner Support Network.
“We can confirm that a 14-year-old boy from the Issawiya neighbourhood [in East Jerusalem] was also arrested,” Rafat Sub Laban, Addameer’s advocacy officer, told Al Jazeera.