Three days of fierce fighting in Jerusalem have led to diplomatic tensions across the region, after video footage showed Israeli forces raiding Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, firing stun grenades and tear gas.
The U.S. said it was deeply concerned about the violence at the site, revered by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and by Jews as the Temple Mount, and urged both sides to “exercise restraint and refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric”.
Amin Abu Ghazaleh, director of the Palestinian Red Crescent emergency unit, said five Israeli policemen and 26 Palestinians had been injured in the fighting, which began on Sunday when religious Jews were led up to the compound by Israeli police.
Jordan, which administers the site, said Israeli forces entered deep inside the mosque and caused extensive damage, adding that Israel’s actions amounted to “aggression.”
King Abdullah II of Jordan, a key Israeli ally in the region, said the Israeli forces’ actions were provocative and could imperil ties between the countries. “If this continues to happen, Jordan will have no choice but to take action,” he said.
However Israeli leaders said those inside the mosque had themselves been violent, throwing stones, fireworks and other objects at Israeli forces.
Nickolai Mladenov, the United Nations’ Special Envoy, said the fighting “may ignite violence beyond the walls [of Jerusalem]” and urged “restraint and respect,” while the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) “strongly denounced” the Israeli incursion into the mosque and urged the UN Security Council to wade in.
Jews are currently allowed to visit the compound at certain times, but are forbidden from praying there for fear of sparking tensions with Muslim worshippers. However religious Jews, many of whom are settlers, have pushed for greater rights and access, with some trying to erect a new temple on the grounds.
In previous years, Israeli police have stopped Jewish settlers from accessing the mosque, but in recent days they have accompanied settlers during their incursions, leading to some of the worst violence in recent years.