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Over 20 wounded in fresh Israeli violence in Aqsa mosque


More than 20 Israelis and Palestinians were wounded on Sunday in several incidents in and around Jerusalem's flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, two days after major violence at the site.

The latest clashes take the number of wounded since Friday to more than 170, at a tense time when the Jewish Passover festival coincides with Ramazan.

They also follow deadly violence in Israel and the occupied West Bank starting in late March, in which 36 people have been killed.

Early on Sunday morning, "hundreds" of Palestinian demonstrators inside the mosque compound started gathering piles of stones, shortly before the arrival of Jewish visitors, police said.

Jews are allowed to visit but not to pray at the site, also known as Temple Mount, the holiest place in Judaism and third-holiest in Islam.

Also read: Israeli police clash with Palestinians inside Al-Aqsa mosque, 152 injured

Israeli police said its forces had entered the compound in order to "remove" the demonstrators and "re-establish order".

The Palestinian Red Crescent said 19 Palestinians were wounded, including at least five who were hospitalised. It said some had been wounded with rubber-coated steel bullets.

'Free hand'

An AFP team near the entrance to the compound early Sunday morning saw Jewish worshippers leaving the site, barefoot for religious reasons, and protected by heavily armed police.

Outside the Old City, which lies in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, Palestinian youths threw rocks at passing buses, resulting in seven people being treated for light wounds, Shaare Zedek hospital said.

Video released by the police showed two Israeli buses, their windscreens and side windows smashed in, driving down a road near the Old City as young men showered them with rocks.

The police said they had arrested 18 Palestinians.

Senior Palestinian official Hussein Al Sheikh said Sunday that "Israel's dangerous escalation in the Al-Aqsa compound … is a blatant attack on our holy places", and called on the international community to intervene.

Also read: Scores of Israelis storm Al-Aqsa complex in Jerusalem

King Abdullah II of Jordan — the kingdom serves as custodian of holy places in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in 1967 and later annexed in a move not recognised by most of the international community — on Sunday called on Israel to "stop all illegal and provocative measures" that drives "further aggravation".

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that the security forces "continue to receive a free hand… for any action that will provide security to the citizens of Israel".

Bennett stressed that every effort should be made to allow members of all religions to celebrate their religious holidays in Jerusalem, his office said in a statement.

But the chief of the Hamas movement, which controls the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, had earlier warned Israel that "Al-Aqsa is ours and ours alone".

"Our people have the right to access it and pray in it, and we will not bow down to (Israeli) repression and terror," Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement.

The United Nations has called for calm, a year after clashes in and around the mosque compound escalated into an 11-day war between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.

Pope's Easter peace prayer

Weeks of mounting tensions saw two deadly attacks by Palestinians in or near the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv in late March and early April, alongside mass arrests by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank.

A total of 14 people have been killed in attacks against Israel since March 22, including a shooting spree in Bnei Brak, an Orthodox Jewish city in greater Tel Aviv.

Also read: Israel's US, Arab partners close ranks on Iran, urge Palestine talks

Twenty-two Palestinians have been killed over the same period, including assailants who targeted Israelis, according to an AFP tally.

On Friday morning, police clashed with Palestinians in the Al-Aqsa compound, including inside the Al-Aqsa mosque, drawing strong condemnation from Muslim countries. Some 150 people were wounded during those clashes.

Pope Francis on Sunday — with Christians marking Easter at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, where they believe Jesus died and was resurrected — prayed for peace.

"May Israelis, Palestinians and all who dwell in the Holy City, together with the pilgrims, experience the beauty of peace, dwell in fraternity and enjoy free access to the Holy Places in mutual respect for the rights of each," he said in his Easter address.

Despite the tensions, elsewhere in Jerusalem's Old City hundreds of Christians staged a lively parade.

Marching bands led the processions with deafening drums and wailing bagpipes, where different sects held simultaneous masses.


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