Israeli forces clashed with Palestinians in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Friday, exchanging a volley of tear gas and rocks.
Israeli troops entered the Haram al-Sharif (Noble Compound) after the Friday noon prayer, and fired tear and sound grenades, causing confusion amongst the large crowds who worship at the holy site on Fridays.
Palestinian youth threw rocks at the forces and security measures were imposed throughout Jerusalem.
Red Crescent medics said 30 Palestinians were injured, and an Israeli police spokesman said 11 officers were lightly hurt and treated at the scene.
Four Palestinians were detained at the site, Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said: ‘This is a serious attack that intends to impose full Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa, a prelude to the establishment of the supposed (Third) Temple.’
Tensions at the sacred complex have been heightened after far-right Israeli politician Moshe Feiglin tried to make a publicised visit to the site two weeks ago, and leaflets were distributed around the city calling to remove ‘Israel’s enemies’ from the site.
Israeli forces detained three Palestinians at the religious compound last Tuesday when clashes broke out as two groups of Israelis toured the site.
Two days earlier, police detained 21 Palestinians in the midst of confrontations at the site.
Police also blocked Feiglin from entering and briefly closed the holy compound last Sunday, saying they feared unrest after the extremist literature circulated the city.
The compound, containing the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, is the third holiest site in Islam and abuts the site where Jews believe the ancient Second Temple stood, attracting the far-right to propose the rebuilding of the Jewish site on the sanctuary.
In its weekly meeting last Tuesday, the PA cabinet slammed ‘continuous attempts by settlers and extremists to raid Al-Aqsa Mosque and conduct religious rituals on its campuses in a manner that provokes Muslim sentiments and creates a state of tension,’ saying it holds the Israeli government responsible.
• Meanwhile, Israeli warplanes fired on a Gaza City neighbourhood early on Friday, lightly injuring two Palestinian fighters.
The air strike on the Zeitoun neighbourhood injured two militants who were evacuated to hospital, emergency services’ spokesman Adham Abu Salmiya said.
Their identities and affiliations were not immediately identified.
An Israeli army statement claimed the warplanes hit ‘two terror activity sites in the northern Gaza Strip… in response to the rockets fired at Israel.’
Three rockets fired from Gaza had landed in southern Israel on Thursday evening, and two projectiles early on Friday, without causing injuries or damage.
The armed wing of the Popular Resistance Committees said in a statement on Friday it had launched projectiles at southern Israel early on Friday.
The Nasser Salah al-Din brigades said their fire was in response to Israel’s violations of the sanctity of Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, and Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians.
Last Sunday, Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip injured six people, including a one-year-old infant.
The Palestinian Authority on Friday condemned Israel’s approval of 500 new settler homes and retroactive approval of 200 more in the northern West Bank.
The settlement expansion in Shilo, near Nablus, and the legalising of nearby settler outpost Shvut Rahel, announced last Wednesday, is a ‘stark indication of Israel’s policy to continue occupying the West Bank,’ a statement from the Government Media Centre said.
‘Shilo is located in the heart of the West Bank and is not even one of the settlements near the Green Line that Israel usually expands on the pretext of an eventual land swap – which is also unacceptable,’ the statement added.
Palestinian officials insist they cannot return to negotiations with Israel while the state continues to build on occupied Palestinian lands, that are necessary for a viable Palestinian state.
The PA statement continued: ‘While the Israeli government tirelessly talks about wanting peace and returning to the negotiations table, it is aggressively working on preventing any of the fundamental issues to be negotiated through irreversible facts that obliterate the viability of the two-state solution and the creation of the state of Palestine on 1967 territories.’
It called on the international community to see through Israel’s statements and take note of its actions.
Meanwhile, Palestinian factions meeting in Cairo insisted on Friday that talks had been positive, but in the face of continuing obstacles no progress was announced in the formation of a unity government.
Acting leader of the PLO Yasser al-Wadiyah described the atmosphere as ‘positive, despite some hurdles’ during last Thursday’s meeting, adding that Fatah leader President Mahmoud Abbas and his Hamas counterpart Khalid Mashaal were working to iron out issues holding up the new government.
The interim administration will be made of of independent figures, he said, reiterating the stance of the May 2011 deal to end rival administrations by the parties.
But Mashaal’s agreement that the Fatah chief head the new cabinet had caused dissension in the party.
While Hamas officials said they had resolved to stick to Mashaal’s commitment after a Wednesday meeting, others indicated the faction wanted control of key ministries in exchange.
At last Thursday’s cross-factional meeting, leaders agreed that they support protection of Palestinian holy sites, and discussed procedures for Palestinian elections, including Diaspora participation in a vote for the PLO parliament, al-Wadiyah added.
But there were no announcements regarding the formation of the unity cabinet, which had been slated at the main topic for the summit of Palestinian factions, PLO leaders and the speaker of the Palestinian National Council.
Without a unity cabinet in place, other key tenets of the nine-month-old deal remain on hold.
The agreement had envisaged presidential and legislative elections within a year, but Abbas has yet to issue the presidential decree required three months prior to the poll.
Palestinian Popular Struggle Front chief Ahmad Majdalani said the formation of the new government was linked to progress made by the Central Elections Commission in preparing for the vote.
The commission re-opened offices in the Gaza Strip in January, but said in the following weeks that it has not been permitted to start voter registration in the territory.
• For the first time since they split into rival governments in the West Bank and Gaza in 2007, Fatah leader President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader and Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniya met in Cairo late last Thursday.
The leaders met in Al-Andalus castle in the Egyptian capital, accompanied by top officials from both parties.
They discussed the process of reconciliation between their factions, including ways to overcome obstacles to the Cairo and Doha agreements, a Hamas official said.
After his Hamas party won elections in 2006, Haniya became prime minister but the international community shunned the new government and rivalry with incumbents Fatah exploded into near civil war.
Fatah left the Gaza Strip, and Abbas, as president, appointed a new prime minister to lead the West Bank-based administration. Hamas contested the legitimacy of this move, and maintained its Gaza government was the sole elected authority.
The parties signed a deal to end the four-year division in May 2011, penned by Abbas and Hamas politburo head Khalid Mashaal.
Haniya, who made his first diplomatic trips outside of Gaza since 2007, had yet to meet with the Fatah chief until last Thursday night.
In early February, the party chiefs agreed in the Qatari capital for Abbas to head a new unity government to prepare for fresh elections, causing some disquiet amongst the Gaza-based leaders of Hamas.
In an apparent effort to re-balance Hamas’ position, the party agreed at a meeting last Wednesday on demands to Abbas’s party for the new government, including retaining control of key ministries, according to one official involved in the talks.
The Hamas delegation at last Thursday’s meeting included Musa Abu Marzouq, Izzat Rishiq, Khalil al-Hayyeh, Nizar Awad Allah and Muhammad Naser.
The Fatah delegation included Saeb Erekat, Azzam Al-Ahmad, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, and PA ambassador in Cairo Barakat al-Farra.