Israeli police arrested more than 350 people during the early hours of Wednesday after clashes at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque, a police spokesperson said.
In a statement, police said they had “arrested and removed over 350 individuals that violently barricaded” themselves inside the mosque in the Old City of annexed east Jerusalem.
Those arrested included “masked individuals, stone and firework hurlers/throwers, and individuals suspected of desecrating the mosque,” it said.
Israeli police attacked dozens of worshippers in the mosque’s compound before dawn in the wee hours of the day in what Israeli police said was a response to rioting.
The incident sparked protests across the occupied West Bank and the Israeli military claimed nine rockets were fired from Gaza toward Israel after sirens blared in southern towns.
Violence in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem has surged over the past year and there is concern that tensions could escalate this month, as the holy month of Ramazan coincides with Judaism’s Passover and Christian Easter.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said seven Palestinians sustained wounds from rubber-tipped bullets and beatings by the Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. It added that Israeli forces were preventing its medics from reaching the mosque.
“I was sitting on a chair reciting [Holy Quran],” an elderly woman told Reuters outside the mosque, struggling to catch her breath. “They hurled stun grenades, one of them hit my chest,” she said as she began to cry.
Israeli police said in a statement that it was forced to enter the compound after masked agitators locked themselves inside the mosque with fireworks, sticks and stones.
“When the police entered, stones were thrown at them and fireworks were fired from inside the mosque by a large group of agitators,” the statement said, adding that a police officer was wounded in the leg.
Friction at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, has set off violence in recent years.
Palestinian groups condemned Israel’s attacks on worshippers, which they described as a crime.
“We warn the occupation against crossing red lines at holy sites, which will lead to a big explosion,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesperson for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Jordan and Egypt, both involved in recent US-backed efforts to de-escalate tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, issued separate statements condemning the incident.
Videos circulating on social media, which Reuters could not immediately verify, showed fireworks going off and police beating people inside the mosque.
The Israeli military said nine rockets were fired from Gaza toward Israel, of which at least four were intercepted and four landed in open areas.
Pakistan criticises Israeli police actions
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif strongly condemned the brutal attack of the Israeli forces on the worshippers.
In a tweet, the premier stated that the attack violated the sanctity of the holy month of Ramazan.
“Impunity granted to Israel has emboldened Tel Aviv to violate basic human rights with abandon,” he added.
President Dr Arif Alvi said Israel had “no regard for any norms of humanity, including the sanctity of religious places.
“We see the height of barbarity to attack worshippers in a vicious manner during the holy month of Ramzan,” he tweeted, adding that the international community must condemn the “brutal and inhumane act against peaceful worshippers”.
Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said the “indiscriminate beating of worshippers and violation of sanctity of one of holiest sites of Islam is reprehensible and a grave affront to Muslims.”
Foreign Office (FO) Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch addressed the incident during her weekly press briefing and said Pakistan condemned the “brutal attack by Israeli occupation force” in the “strongest possible terms”.
“The continuing pattern of such oppressive and escalatory actions on the part of Israel in the holy month of Ramazan in recent years not only violates the religious freedom of Palestinian people, but also hurts the religious sentiments of Muslims around the world.
“Pakistan calls on the international community to fulfil its responsibility in taking immediate action to end such inhumane acts of violence against unarmed and innocent civilians that have been particularly ascendant this year and which are detrimental to regional peace and stability,” she said, according to a FO press release.
PTI chief Imran Khan also strongly condemned the Israel police’s actions.
Taking to Twitter, the ex-premier said: “It is a responsibility of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to apprise the United Nations Security Council and the international community that such barbaric acts cause immense hurt to Muslims across the world.”