Videos shared on social media showed serious unrest and violence at the entrance to the mosque building from before sunrise with Palestinians throwing stones and fireworks, and Israeli security forces firing what appeared to be shock grenades and tear gas.
There were also early clashes at the Lion Gate’s entrance to the Old Town.
In the middle of the morning, the Palestinian Red Crescent said more than 150 people had been taken to hospital with injuries from rubber bullets and stun grenades, as well as wounds inflicted after beatings by police.
Among the wounded was a cameraman, Rami Khatib, who received a broken hand. Video shows him being kicked and beaten by police officers.
Earlier, police released CCTV video showing masked men apparently preparing for clashes overnight by smashing stones and collecting them in black buckets.
Police said several officers were taken to hospitals after being hit by rocks.
After initial clashes on the grounds and at the doors of the mosque, Israeli police entered the building around 1 p.m. 9:30, as can be seen from several social media videos.
Worshipers could be seen lying on the ground apparently detained as dozens of police stood over them.
Other videos show heavy smoke inside the mosque and the constant sound of fireworks and grenades going off.
Israeli police said they made more than 300 arrests inside the mosque, but insisted they had only entered the area because those who threw stones threatened safe worship.
At the entrance of the Damascus Gate to the Old City, one of the main entrances for Muslims on their way to the al-Aqsa Mosque, police briefly prevented people from entering.
Earlier, at the entrances to the mosque area, police allowed older men and women to enter, but prevented young men from joining them.
In a statement, Israeli police said the violence broke out at 4 a.m. local time Friday (21:00 ET Thursday) as “dozens of young Palestinian offenders, some of them with their heads covered, began marching around the Temple Mount with Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. flag, set off fireworks and throw stones. “
Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid praised the security forces and said they had acted with sensitivity and determination, adding: “The riots this morning on Temple Mount are unacceptable and go against the spirit of the religions we believe in.”
While tensions have been high in Israel and the West Bank in recent weeks, Jerusalem itself has been quiet after a series of violent attacks and incidents.
However, fears of possible clashes in the city had grown following comments over the past week from both Jewish extremists and Palestinian militant groups.
Hamas has accused Israel of a series of provocations in Jerusalem, most recently urging the Palestinians to defend the mosque “by all possible means” after an extremist Jewish group called for an animal sacrifice on Temple Mount to mark the start of Easter, which begins. Friday.
The rabbi of the Western Wall on Friday morning urged Muslim leaders to act to stop the violence, as well as reiterate his opposition to the raising of an animal sacrifice to the Temple Mount.
In addition to recent events, the coincidences of all three of the major Abrahamic denominations celebrating an important religious holiday on the same day only seemed to increase the increase further.
While Muslims mark the second Friday of the holy month of Ramadan, and Jews prepare for the start of the Easter holiday, Christians from Western churches mark Good Friday. From early morning, one could see small groups on their way through the Old City towards the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which Christians believe stands on the site where Jesus was crucified.
But the scenes Friday morning have brought back memories of a year ago when violence in Jerusalem was seized by Hamas, which fired rockets at the city, triggering an 11-day war between militants in Gaza and the Israeli army.
This morning’s violence had given rise to sharp criticism of the actions of Israeli forces, especially the decision to enter the mosque building wearing shoes, which is perceived by Muslims as deeply disrespectful.
The presence of Israeli police inside the Aqsa Mosque is also seen as putting pressure on a “status quo” agreement between Israel and Jordan on governance arrangements at the religious site.
Jordan’s foreign ministry condemned what it described as the storm of the property, calling it a “flagrant violation”.
A spokesman for the Palestinian Authority presidency called it a “dangerous development”.
The United Arab List, one of the eight parties in Israel’s governing coalition, spoke of violating the sanctity of the mosque.
But against the worst fears of many, the afternoon was calm, and so it remained well into the evening, when later prayers in the mosque ended peacefully.
Hamas – after earlier in the day calling for “mass mobilization” to defend the mosque and warning Israeli leaders “against continuing their aggression” – later issued a statement that was very different in tone, suggesting that urgent communication between key regional actors during the day may have helped to ease 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 “urged all parties to work to curb the situation in the holy city.”
Haniyeh told the UN official that Palestinian worshipers should have “free access to the mosque and not be attacked by Israeli occupying forces,” the statement said.