A Palestinian man and an Israeli guard have been killed in separate incidents in the occupied West Bank after Israeli forces raided the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Israeli forces killed a Palestinian man overnight on Friday in the north of the occupied West Bank, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
Yahya Adwan, 27, was shot in the chest during an Israeli army operation in the town of Azzun, the ministry said in a statement on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the Israeli army said a guard who was on duty at the entrance to Ariel settlement on Friday night was attacked when armed men opened fire. Emergency services confirmed that the man, in his 20s, had died from his wounds.
The Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, one of the main militant groups present in the occupied West Bank, claimed responsibility for the killing.
“We claim responsibility for the heroic operation in the colony of Ariel in which a Zionist officer was killed, in response to violations committed by the occupation government in Jerusalem,” the group said.
On its part, Hamas, the Palestinian movement that governs the Gaza Strip, hailed the killing as an “heroic operation”, with spokesman Hazem Qassem declaring it a response to the “attacks on Al-Aqsa,” Islam’s third holiest site, which has been one of the focal points for weeks of violence.
In response to the incident, Israeli soldiers on Saturday stepped up their presence particularly at the entrance to the neighbouring Palestinian community of Salfi, an army statement said.
It added that security forces had made arrests and seized weapons at Bruqin, also nearby, and at the Balata refugee camp.
The group which on Saturday said it carried out the attack is the armed wing of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah faction.
Speaking from Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, Al Jazeera’s Nida Ibrahim said that Adwan’s death brings the number of Palestinians killed in the past month to 26.
“The majority of those killed have been during confrontations with Israeli forces as the number of raids by the Israeli military has been on the rise,” said Ibrahim.
She added in the Israeli military is continuing to search for two gunmen suspected of killing the Israeli guard near Ariel settlement.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said 42 people had been injured on Friday morning at the compound, Islam’s third holiest site. The Western Wall of the compound is sacred to Jews.
The unrest, which came on the final Friday in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, left those injured suffering “upper-body injuries”, said the Red Crescent.
An AFP journalist said Israeli police fired rubber-coated bullets while witnesses said they also used tear gas.
An uneasy calm had been restored at the compound following the unrest that surrounded morning prayers, but tensions remained high.
In the early afternoon, a crowd of Muslim worshippers gathered at Al-Aqsa. Some people waved Palestinian flags and the colours of Hamas, an AFP journalist said.
Over the past two weeks, nearly 300 Palestinians have been hurt in incursions by Israeli police forces at the Al-Aqsa compound. The 35-acre compound is referred to as al-Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary by Muslims and as the Temple Mount by Jews.
The site is in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed in a move not recognised by most of the international community.
Israel’s incursions into the compound during Ramadan met widespread condemnation and raised fears of inflaming persistent Israeli-Palestinian tensions across Jerusalem.
But Israel has insisted it has been compelled to act against operatives from Hamas and the Islamic Jihad groups. It says armed members threaten Muslim worshippers at Al-Aqsa and Jews praying at the Western Wall.
In an apparent attempt to ease tensions, Israel’s foreign minister Yair Lapid has stressed that the government is committed to the status quo at the compound, meaning adherence to a longstanding convention that only Muslims are allowed to pray there.
Muslim leaders have, however, been angered by a recent uptick in visits. Some voiced fears that Israel was seeking to divide the compound and create a space where Jews may worship. Lapid told journalists that no such plan exists.
According to the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, nearly 3,700 Israeli settlers have entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound over the past week to mark the Jewish festival of Passover.
The fresh unrest comes as the end of Ramadan nears early next week and as Israel authorised new settlement construction in the illegally occupied West Bank city of Hebron.
On Wednesday, Israel’s High Court approved the construction of a 31-unit six-storey apartment complex for settlers in the heart of the city.
Violence in occupied east Jerusalem has raised fears of another armed conflict similar to the 11-day Israeli assault on Gaza last year, triggered in part by similar unrest at Al-Aqsa. At least 232 Palestinians in Gaza and 12 people in Israel were killed.
Since early last week, there has been isolated rocket fire from Gaza towards Israel and Israeli rockets at the Strip, but no casualties reported on either side.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders held a rally in Gaza late on Thursday, with calls to “defend” Jerusalem, including Al-Aqsa.
In an annual show of pro-Palestinian rallies known as Quds (Jerusalem) Day, thousands of Iranians took to streets across the Islamic republic on Friday. Flag-waving protesters chanted “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”, the state broadcaster IRIB reported.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei made live televised remarks in support of Palestinians and slammed those in the West backing Ukraine against Russia’s invasion.
“They are making so much noise about the situation in Ukraine … (and) are keeping totally silent about the crimes in Palestine,” he said.
Hamas followed with a statement thanking Iran for “standing with Jerusalem and the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque, and for supporting our resisting nation by all means”.
The Al-Aqsa tensions have come against a backdrop of violence since March 22 in Israel and the occupied West Bank.
Twelve Israelis, including an Arab-Israeli police officer, and two Ukrainians were killed in four separate attacks inside Israel. Two of the deadly attacks were carried out in the Tel Aviv area by Palestinians.
A total of 27 Palestinians and three Israeli Arabs have been killed during the same period.