While Israeli police called the appearance of right-wing Jews at the holy site routine, Palestinians called it provocative. And the Islamic Waqf, or endowments agency, which is responsible for running the site, later said three of its workers were detained after “radicalized settlers” were allowed entry. An image of a Waqf worker restrained on ground, with an Israeli police officer’s knee on his neck, quickly went viral on social media.
This was just one incident in what have become almost daily confrontations in East Jerusalem, even after a cease-fire was reached last week to end the fighting between Israel and Hamas. These tensions largely center on two flash points — the sacred compound that includes al-Aqsa Mosque and the planned eviction of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood — and are the very same ones that triggered the devastating exchange of rockets and airstrikes this month.
In more violence Monday, two Israelis were stabbed in East Jerusalem, requiring hospitalization. The Israeli military said one was a soldier, who was moderately injured. The attacker was fatally shot.
The simmering tensions come as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to touch down in Israel for a visit this week to talk with Israeli officials and Palestinian leaders in the occupied West Bank. But there is little sign that this diplomatic initiative will resolve the underlying issues, like those in Jerusalem, that continue to fuel Israeli-Palestinian hostilities.
“Maybe it will calm down for one month or two months,” said Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani, the manager of al-Aqsa Mosque, after Sunday’s arrests. “But in the end, it will all explode on the street.”
Kiswani said Muslim worshipers had been cleared from the holy site on Sunday after morning prayers amid “provocations” by Israeli forces.
An Israeli police spokesman confirmed that Waqf employees had been arrested but said he did not have details except that they had created a disturbance. While Nisani’s tour along the edges of the compound passed uneventfully, another that morning had been heckled, video showed.
The outbreak of fighting between Israel and Hamas had been preceded by weeks of growing friction in Jerusalem, which built over the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. In the final days, Israeli security forces confronted Muslim worshipers in what Palestinians called a raid on al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam. That Israeli action was condemned by Jordan, which runs the Waqf that controls the site, as a breach of the delicate status quo agreement in place since Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 war.
When Hamas launched its first rockets toward Jerusalem this month, the militant group dubbed its barrage the “Sword of Jerusalem.” Hamas opened fire after issuing an ultimatum for Israeli forces to withdraw from around the mosque and ensure the rights of Palestinians facing eviction in Sheikh Jarrah. Israel responded with intense airstrikes on the Gaza Strip.
The 11 days of fighting killed 248 Palestinians and 12 people in Israeli, officials said.
Protests are also continuing in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, where the efforts by Jewish settlers to evict Palestinian families have taken on symbolic importance for many opponents of Israeli occupation. The Israeli Supreme Court had been poised to oust several families after a lengthy court battle but delayed the hearing as violence was erupting this month.
Today, police cordons limit the access of Palestinians to the mostly Arab area but allow Jewish settlers to come and go.
“It’s no good to fix it with a plaster,” said Sirien Jabareen, a Palestinian activist who had traveled from the town of Umm al-Fahm in northern Israel to show her support for the families.
“The problem is the Israeli apartheid system,” she said after Israeli police dispersed the peaceful demonstrators by spraying a foul smelling fluid known as skunk water. “You’ve got to get to the root.”
In response to questions about the handling of tensions in the city, Israeli police said they had acted with “increased force” on the streets of Jerusalem to “prevent incidents of violence” and “preserve public security.”
Tareq Baconi, an analyst at International Crisis Group, said the relentless confrontations in Jerusalem are unlikely to end peacefully. “There have been mass arrest of Palestinian protesters. Sheikh Jarrah has been put under siege,” he said. “I think this is likely to continue, and it’s likely to continue with greater violence by Israeli security forces if the media isn’t looking.”
Recent days have seen a new sense of unity among Palestinian protesters as they confront Israel in the streets, but frictions are growing within the Palestinian establishment between rival camps.
On Friday, Muslim worshipers turned on the grand mufti of Jerusalem because he did not mention the situation in Gaza or Hamas’s military efforts during the prayer service at al-Aqsa. The grand mufti is appointed by the Palestinian Authority, which governs in the West Bank and competes with Hamas for popular support.
“Out, out, the dogs of the [Palestinian Authority] out,” worshipers chanted, video of the scene showed. Some threw items at him as he took refuge at the top of his minbar, the pulpit where sermons are delivered.
On the esplanade outside the mosque, large crowds gathered, waving mainly Palestinian flags but also some Hamas ones, ABC producer Nasser Attar said. “I think the Israelis got irritated,” he said. “All of a sudden we heard sound grenades.”
Attar said he was beaten by Israeli police despite showing a press card. He said the crowd had been peaceful until Israeli police tried to disperse it, but later a molotov cocktail was thrown toward Israeli officers.
Leaving prayers on Sunday, Mohammed Obaidat, 59, said the show of support for Hamas was understandable. “People will rally around whoever comes to rescue them,” he said. “The people of Jerusalem suffer from fines, arrests, the confiscation and destruction of their houses.”
As he spoke, Israeli police led away a young Palestinian in handcuffs from the site.
Marlen Lluz, 48, a mother of two from East Jerusalem, recently stood beside a deserted Damascus Gate, one of the main entrances to Jerusalem’s Old City, holding a tissue to her nose to block the smell of the skunk water. Her 25-year-old son had also recently been detained by Israeli forces.
“They aren’t giving anyone a chance to breathe,” she said. “It will get worse if they don’t address the demands of the Palestinian people.”
Miriam Berger and Sufian Taha contributed to this report.