Israeli forces given 'free hand' as clashes break out on Temple Mount

Security forces will continue to act against rioters who try to disrupt public order, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said.

  Israel Police forces in Jerusalem during Passover, April 17, 2022.  (photo credit: ISRAEL POLICE)
Israel Police forces in Jerusalem during Passover, April 17, 2022.
(photo credit: ISRAEL POLICE)

Israeli security forces will be given a “free hand” to conduct any operational activity, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said following another day of Palestinian rioting in Jerusalem’s Old City and on the Temple Mount.

Israel’s main goal is to provide security to all Israeli citizens, the prime minister added following a situational assessment held with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi, Israel Police Chief Kobi Shabtai, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) Director Ronen Bar and other security establishment officials.

Despite every effort by Israel to enable freedom of worship to Palestinians during the month of Ramadan, security forces will continue to act against rioters who try to disrupt public order, Bennett said.

Clashes broke out on the Temple Mount between Israeli security forces and Arab worshipers on Sunday morning as Jewish visitors entered the site on the first intermediate day of Passover and hundreds of Arab youths began gathering stones and blocking pathways.

Rocket sirens sounded in Nahal Oz on Sunday afternoon, with local residents reporting hearing an explosion. Despite the reports from locals, the IDF announced that the sirens were a false alarm.

 Rescue personnel evacuate an injured man outside the compound that houses Al-Aqsa Mosque, known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City April 17, 2022.  (credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS) Rescue personnel evacuate an injured man outside the compound that houses Al-Aqsa Mosque, known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City April 17, 2022. (credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)

Early on Sunday morning, Palestinian media reported that Israeli police had set up checkpoints at the entrances to the Old City of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, only allowing worshipers through after checking their ID cards.

Shortly before Jewish visitors began entering the site on Sunday, Israel Police entered the complex, pushing Arab visitors toward the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque. Video shared by Al-Qastal, a Palestinian news site focusing on Jerusalem, showed security forces closing gates and closing the doors of the Dome of the Rock and prayer halls at the site after pushing worshipers inside.

Israel Police issued a statement saying they entered the site after hundreds of Arab youths began gathering stones and blocking pathways in an attempt to disturb the peace.

“Hundreds of law-breaking young people disturbed the peace in the Temple Mount area and inside the mosque during violent riots, which have nothing to do with the sanctity of the holiday and the holy places. These violent outlaws are the ones who defile and desecrate the holy places and try to harm innocent civilians and security forces,” the statement said.

“Unfortunately, on social media false information and misinformation is disseminated in relation to events, while throwing sand in the eyes of the public in an attempt to incite and agitate,” it added. “These false publications, some of which have no grip on reality, try to create improper legitimacy for throwing stones and firing fireworks inside a house of prayer and at policemen and civilians and misrepresenting the holy places and especially the Temple Mount.”

There were 19 Arabs injured in the clashes, with five transferred to hospitals, according to the Jerusalem Red Crescent.

Video shared from the scene showed Arabs calling on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to support them, alongside chants in support of Hamas saying, “With our souls and blood, we will redeem you, Oh, Aqsa.”

Jewish worshipers walking in Jerusalem’s Old City were attacked by Arab assailants on Sunday morning. Video showed the assailants hitting at least one Jewish victim on the head. Although the worshipers did not require medical treatment, two suspects were arrested in connection with the incident.

A total of 728 Jews visited the Temple Mount on Sunday morning, according to the Temple Mount Administration. The compound will be open to Jewish visitors from 7 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. throughout the intermediate days of Passover, including Thursday.

Jewish visitors are not allowed to bring religious items with them or to pray on the Temple Mount, according to police regulations, although quiet, subtle prayer without bowing has seemingly been permitted by police in recent years.

Amid the unrest on the Temple Mount, Palestinian rioters threw stones at a number of public buses near the Old City, damaging windows and lightly injuring a number of commuters.

Nine suspects were arrested during the unrest on the mount and in the Old City, four of whom were involved in throwing stones at buses.

Al-Aqsa tensions shake coalition

Meanwhile, the Islamic Movement’s Shura Council decided on Sunday evening that Ra’am would suspend its membership in the Knesset and coalition in protest against the situation at al-Aqsa. The party called on the Joint List to do the same until a solution is reached about al-Aqsa, adding that it was ready to take a decision for the collective resignation of the Arab parties from the Knesset.

Ra’am MK Waleed Taha had told Channel 13 on Sunday afternoon, “I would expect the government to behave differently toward the Jews who came up to provoke at al-Aqsa Mosque, but it allowed several hundred fascists to do so. The price will probably be the dissolution of the coalition.”

The decision and warning from Taha came after MK Mazen Ghanaim warned Bennett in a letter on Friday that he would pull out of the coalition if police activity on the Temple Mount did not cease.

The office of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on Palestinians to arrive at al-Aqsa Mosque in order to “defend it.” He warned that the actions of Israeli security forces were a “dangerous escalation, the repercussions of which are to be borne by the Israeli government alone.”

 Palestinians burn tires as they block the streets leading to Joseph's Tomb, near Balata refugee camp, in the West Bank city of Nablus, April 11, 2022.  (credit: NASSER ISHTAYEH/FLASH90) Palestinians burn tires as they block the streets leading to Joseph's Tomb, near Balata refugee camp, in the West Bank city of Nablus, April 11, 2022. (credit: NASSER ISHTAYEH/FLASH90)

JORDAN’S KING Abdullah II stressed on Sunday afternoon the need for Israel to respect the “historical and legal status-quo at al-Aqsa Mosque/al-Haram al-Sharif and cease all illegal and provocative measures that violate it and could push toward further escalation.”

The Jordanian monarch directed his government to continue regional and international efforts and communications to “stop Israeli escalations.”

Amid the tensions, Otzma Yehudit head Itamar Ben-Gvir warned on Sunday that he had sent a message to the commander of the Jerusalem Police District saying that if police were not given a free hand to act against rioters, he would establish a bureau at the Damascus Gate. Last year and earlier this year, Ben-Gvir established a bureau in the Sheikh Jarrah/Shimon Hatzadik neighborhood of east Jerusalem amid tensions there.

Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz condemned the violence on Sunday, saying, “[I] strongly condemn the severe attack and calamity this morning against innocent Jews on their way to the morning prayer of the intermediary days at the Western Wall. This is an act of terrorism on the path of peace in a city that sanctifies freedom of religion, and anyone who desires should be allowed to pray in peace and security.”

On Saturday night, Arabs put up a banner on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif reading “Hamas calls on you for a general mobilization and to push out the herd of settlers who are threatening to storm al-Aqsa.” Israeli forces entered the complex later in the night to remove the banner and arrested a person there.

Clashes broke out between Arabs and Israeli security forces in front of the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Saturday night as well, after Palestinian media reported that Israeli authorities had decided not to release some of those detained during the riots at al-Aqsa on Friday. Joint List MK Ahmed Tibi was present at the scene.

Early on Sunday morning, video was shared on Palestinian media showing groups of detainees in multiple locations being released, although at least some remained in custody, according to the reports.

Hamas official Khaled Mashal stated on Saturday night that the movement had told the Qatari foreign minister it was demanding that sacrifices not be brought by Jews at the site, that Israeli forces not “storm” Jenin and that those arrested at al-Aqsa on Friday be released.

Mashal added that the foreign minister had told Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh that Israel was not interested in an escalation, and that Hamas had responded that it was also not interested in a step-up in violence but that it “had its responsibilities and the escalation in Jerusalem must be stopped.”

Arabs clash with Israeli forces in Nazareth and the West Bank

In Nazareth, Arab-Israelis clashed with police during a demonstration about Friday’s clashes at al-Aqsa. At least 20 arrests were reported by Palestinian media. Video from the scene showed rioters burning large fires in the middle of a street in the city.

A Palestinian was shot by Israeli forces near Tulkarm on Saturday night and five others were arrested at the scene, according to Palestinian reports.

Clashes broke out in Beit Iksa, northwest of Jerusalem, with Israeli forces firing tear gas to disperse rioters, according to Palestinian reports.