JERUSALEM (RNS) — Footage of Israel police firing tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades into the Al-Aqsa Mosque Monday (May 10) threatened to ignite regional violence in the Middle East.
The footage, which was shared across social media platforms, also showed thousands of Palestinian men at the Al-Aqsa compound and the streets adjoining the Old City of Jerusalem throwing metal bars and rocks both at the police and at cars driven by civilians.
More than 300 Palestinians were injured during the morning and afternoon clashes, the Palestinian Red Crescent reported. Israel reported that 21 officers were injured, along with seven civilians.
“These are critical hours. We may be dragged into a significant escalation,” an Israeli official told Israel’s Channel 12 TV network soon after the incident, the latest in a series of violent clashes during the holy month of Ramadan.
Hours after the clashes, militants in Gaza fired seven rockets toward Jerusalem, triggering air raid sirens. At the time, tens of thousands of Jews were marching through the streets of Jerusalem to celebrate Jerusalem Day, which marks Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East War.
Hamas said it fired the rockets to protest Israeli “crimes and aggression in the Holy City, and its harassment of our people in Sheikh Jarrah and Al-Aqsa mosque.”
Militant groups also fired at least 70 rockets at Israeli communities near the Gaza-Israel border.
Local Arab demonstrations that were initially sparked by skirmishes over Jewish-Arab land claims, which could lead to the eviction of several Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, have grown in size and spread to some other Israeli cities.
Following Friday night clashes at Al-Aqsa, Fathi Hammad, a senior Hamas official, urged Muslims in Jerusalem to buy a knife and decapitate Jews.
Images of violence at Al-Aqsa have angered many Muslims around the world. The mosque is the third-holiest site in Islam.
The sight of Muslims protesting at the mosque, which was built on the Temple Mount — the holiest site in Judaism — also inflamed the passions of far-right Jewish nationalists who want to see a third Jewish temple built on the ruins of the mosque.
“Now is the time to build the third temple,” one nationalist wrote on Twitter. “The Palestinians have illegally occupied it long enough.”
In an attempt to lower tensions, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the police to reroute the annual Jerusalem Day parade away from the Old City’s Muslim Quarter.
The march traditionally ends at the Western Wall — which is located below the Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa.
Anticipating a potentially strong response from Gaza and neighboring Arab countries, Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport rerouted flights, Kann News reported. The army postponed its largest military drill, involving thousands of soldiers, so they would be ready in case of attack.
In response to Palestinian rocket fire into Israel, the Israeli air force retaliated by attacking Hamas targets in Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces reported.
The Gaza health ministry said on Monday 20 Palestinians, including three children, were killed by the air strikes.
In a May 10 statement, the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches of Jerusalem said they are “profoundly disheartened and concerned” about the recent violent events in East Jerusalem.
“These concerning developments, whether at the Al Aqsa mosque or in Sheikh Jarrah violate the sanctity of the people of Jerusalem and of Jerusalem as the City of Peace. The actions undermining the safety of worshipers and the dignity of the Palestinians who are subject to eviction are unacceptable.”
The church leaders said Jerusalem’s “special character” compels all parties “to preserve the already sensitive situation in the Holy City of Jerusalem. The growing tension, backed mainly by right-wing radical groups, endangers the already fragile reality in and around Jerusalem.”
The U.S. embassy in Israel encouraged American citizens “to remain vigilant” and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness, “as security incidents often take place without warning.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry also released a statement, saying, “In the face of Israel’s measured approach during these sensitive days, Hamas has launched over 100 rockets at civilian population centers, and has incited severe violence in Jerusalem. Israel is now acting to defend its citizens from this terrorist aggression.”