Videos shared on social media showed severe unrest and violence at the entrance to the mosque building before dawn with Palestinians throwing stones and firecrackers and Israeli security forces firing what appeared to be stun grenades and tear gas.
There were also the first clashes at the entrance to the Lion’s Gate in the Old City.
In the middle of the morning, the Palestinian Red Crescent said more than 150 people had been hospitalized with injuries from rubber bullets and stun grenades, as well as injuries sustained from police beatings.
Among the injured was a cameraman, Rami Khatib, who suffered a fracture in his hand. The video shows him being kicked and beaten by police officers.
Previously, police released a CCTV video showing masked men preparing for nighttime clashes by smashing stones and collecting them in black buckets.
Police said several officers were taken to hospital after being hit by rocks.
After the first clashes in the complex and at the gates of the mosque, Israeli police entered the building around 9:30 am, as numerous videos on social media demonstrate.
Worshipers could be seen lying on the ground apparently in detention, while dozens of policemen stood above them.
Other videos show heavy smoke inside the mosque and the constant sound of firecrackers and stun grenades being activated.
Israeli police said they made more than 300 arrests inside the mosque, but insisted they only entered the compound because those stones they threw were jeopardizing safe worship.
At the entrance to the Damascus Gate of the Old City, one of the main entrances for Muslims to al-Aqsa mosque, the police briefly blocked people from entering.
Previously, at the entrances to the mosque complex, the police allowed older men and women to enter, but prevented young people from reaching them.
In a statement, Israeli police said the violence erupted at 4 a.m. local time on Friday (9 p.m. ET Thursday) when “dozens of young Palestinian offenders, some with their heads covered, began marching around at the Temple Mount, with the flags of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, throwing fireworks and throwing stones ”.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid paid tribute to the security forces, saying they acted with sensitivity and determination, adding: “This morning’s riots on the Temple Mount are unacceptable and go against the spirit of the religions we believe in. “.
While tension has been very high in Israel and the West Bank in recent weeks, following a series of violent attacks and incidents, Jerusalem itself has been calm.
However, fears of possible clashes in the city had grown, following comments last week from both Jewish extremists and Palestinian militant groups.
Hamas has accused Israel of a series of provocations in Jerusalem, most recently calling on Palestinians to defend the mosque “by all means possible” after a Jewish extremist group called for an animal sacrifice on the Temple Mount at the start of Passover. which starts on Friday
The Wailing Wall rabbi on Friday morning called on Muslim leaders to take action to stop the violence, as well as reiterate his opposition to the raising of an animal sacrifice on the Temple Mount.
In addition to recent events, the coincidence of all three major Abrahamic faiths celebrating an important religious holiday on the same day has only upped the ante.
While Muslims celebrate the second Friday of the holy month of Ramadan and Jews prepare for the start of the Easter holiday, Christians of Western churches celebrate Good Friday. From early in the morning, small groups could be seen making their way through the Old City to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which Christians believe stood on the site where Jesus was crucified.
But the Friday morning scenes brought to mind memories of a year ago, when the violence in Jerusalem was caught by Hamas firing rockets at the city, sparking an 11-day war between militants in Gaza and the Israeli army.
The morning’s violence drew sharp criticism of the actions of Israeli forces, in particular the decision to enter the mosque building with shoes, which Muslims consider deeply disrespectful.
The presence of Israeli police within the Aqsa mosque complex is also believed to strain a “status quo” agreement between Israel and Jordan governing provisions on the religious site.
The Jordanian Foreign Ministry condemned what it described as the assault on the complex, calling it a “flagrant violation”.
A spokesperson for the Palestinian Authority Presidency called it a “dangerous development”.
The United Arab List, one of the eight parties in the Israeli ruling coalition, spoke of the violation of the sanctity of the mosque.
But against the worst fears of many, the afternoon was calm, and so it remained until the evening, with subsequent prayers at the mosque ending peacefully.
Hamas – after calling earlier in the day for a “mass mobilization” to defend the mosque and warning Israeli leaders “not to continue their aggression” – later issued a very different tone, suggesting that urgent communications among the main regional players during the day could have helped to dampen the tensions.
The evening statement said Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh had discussed the situation in Jerusalem with senior Egyptian intelligence officials and UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland, who had “invited all parties to work to contain the situation in the holy city “.
Haniyeh told the UN official that Palestinian faithful should be “allowed free access to the mosque and not be attacked by the Israeli occupation forces,” the statement said.