JERUSALEM (Reuters) -At least 57 Palestinians were injured in clashes with Israeli police within the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem on Friday, medics said, as violence persisted during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan at a site also revered by Jews.
In what may presage wider conflict, Israel said two rockets were fired from Gaza, one falling short and another striking across the border without damage. It was the third such incident this week, breaking months of relative calm on the Gazan front.
Al-Aqsa sits atop the Old City plateau of East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in a 1967 war and annexed in a move that has not received international recognition. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as capital of their hoped-for future state.
Palestinians accuse Israel of restricting Muslim worship at Al-Aqsa – the third-holiest site in Islam – while not doing enough to enforce a long-standing ban on Jewish prayer at the compound. Israel denies this.
Israeli police said they intervened when hundreds of people hurled rocks and fireworks and drew close to the Western Wall, where Jewish worship was underway. A policewoman was injured by a stone and a tree was set alight by the fireworks, police said.
Reuters witnesses said police entered the compound after the morning Ramadan prayers and fired rubber-tipped bullets and stun grenades at a crowd, some of whom were throwing rocks. Police also used a drone to drop tear gas.
The surge of violence in Jerusalem has raised fears of a repeat of last year’s war between Israel and the Hamas Islamists ruling Gaza.
Hamas fighters “have their fingers on the rifle triggers, and we will defend Al-Aqsa mosque with all our might”, Hamas official Mushir al-Masri told a rally in northern Gaza.
No Palestinian faction claimed Friday’s rocket salvo.
Since March 22, Arab assailants have killed 14 people in Israel, including three police officers, and Israeli forces have killed at least 14 Palestinians, among them gunmen and civilians, in the occupied West Bank, medics said.
Ramadan coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover this year. That has brought more Muslim and Jewish visitors to the compound, which is a vestige of two ancient Jewish temples.
As in previous years, Israel halted Jewish visits during the final days of Ramadan, as of Friday, an Israeli official said.
(Reporting by Sinan Abu Mayzer, Amar Awad, Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Henriette Chacar; Editing by Tomasz Janowski, Will Dunham and Gareth Jones)