Dozens wounded in clashes at Al-Aqsa mosque compound

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israeli police clashed with Palestinian protesters  in the latest violence at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound, as the United Nations voiced deep concern at spiralling unrest.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said that 57 people were wounded, including 14 Palestinians taken to hospital, one of them in a serious condition, after police stormed the compound in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem’s Old City.

The clashes come after a month of deadly violence.

The violence has sparked international fears of conflict, one year on since similar unrest led to an 11-day war between Israel and militants in Gaza.

This week, Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip have fired rockets at Israel, which has responded by sending warplanes to strike the blockaded and impoverished territory.

“We are deeply concerned by the escalating violence in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel over the past month,” said Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Israeli police said Palestinians began hurling stones before dawn Friday towards the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray.

“Police forces used crowd dispersal means in order to stop the violence,” said a statement, adding that one officer was wounded.

Police fired tear gas and rubber-tipped bullets at stone-throwing Palestinian youths, and later used drones to spray tear gas from the air, an AFP photographer said.

After midday prayers, some worshippers chanted “incitement” and tried to damage a security post, police said.

More than 200 people, mostly Palestinians, have been hurt in clashes in and around Al-Aqsa in the past week.

Palestinians have been outraged by massive Israeli police deployment and repeated visits by Jews to the holy site.

By long-standing convention, Jews are allowed to visit under certain conditions but are not allowed to pray there.

Palestinian worshipper Alaa al-Haddad said Israel was restricting access to Al-Aqsa, and that this had created “tensions that lead to clashes”, with hundreds of people arrested in recent days.

“It’s all because the occupation forces are regularly storming the holy Al-Aqsa mosque,” Haddad said.