Israeli forces have fired rubber-coated bullets and tear gas at Palestinians in the Al Aqsa Mosque compound as Israel celebrates its Independence Day.
Jerusalem- Dozens of Israeli settlers have stormed the yards of Al Aqsa Mosque compound, protected by the heavy presence of Israeli forces deployed on the first day following the end of Eid al Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Israeli forces attacked Palestinians on Thursday at the Islam's third holiest site in occupied East Jerusalem.
A crowd of Palestinians gathered in protest and scuffles broke out when the police went to arrest one of them. Police fired rubber-coated bullets and tear gas on Palestinians as some sheltered inside the mosque itself. The police could later be seen just inside an entrance to the mosque.
The police said they responded to dozens of people who were shouting incitement and throwing stones, and that one police officer was lightly injured.
But Palestinian witnesses said there was no sign of rock-throwing initially. Some of those who sheltered inside the mosque began throwing stones when police started to enter the building. The witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity because of security concerns.
Under informal arrangements known as the status quo, Jews are allowed to visit the site but not pray there. In recent years, they have visited in ever-increasing numbers with police escorts and many have discreetly prayed, angering the Palestinians as well as neighbouring Jordan, which is the custodian of the site.
The Palestinians have long feared that Israel plans to eventually take over the site or partition it.
'Playing with fire'
Israel says it is committed to maintaining the status quo of the site, but carried out several rounds of attacks on Muslim worshippers during the month of Ramadan in April.
Visits by mostly nationalist and religious Jews resumed on Thursday after being paused for the last 10 days of Ramadan and the Eid al Fitr holiday.
Thursday is also Israel's Independence Day and in recent days fringe groups had called on Jewish worshippers to celebrate by waving Israeli flags at the holy site.
The calls were widely circulated by Palestinians on social media, along with calls to confront any such display.
Hussein al Sheikh, a senior Palestinian official who serves as the main liaison between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, tweeted about the controversy, saying that raising the flag would show “outrageous disregard” for Palestinian feelings and mark the “continuation of extremist racist campaigns.”
Hamas warned on Wednesday that Israel was “playing with fire and dragging the region into an escalation for which the occupation bears full responsibility.”
Clashes in and around Al Aqsa last year ignited an 11-day Israeli war on Gaza.
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