JERUSALEM — Clashes erupted Friday morning between Israeli police and Palestinians at Al-Aqsa Mosque, a major holy site in Jerusalem, and medics said at least 59 Palestinians were injured.
The Islamic endowment that administers the site said Israeli police came into force before dawn, as thousands of worshipers gathered at the mosque for morning prayers during the holy month of Ramadan. Israel said its forces entered to remove rocks and stones that had been gathered in anticipation of the violence.
Videos circulating online showed Palestinians throwing rocks and police firing tear gas and stun grenades. Others showed worshipers barricading themselves inside the mosque itself amid what appeared to be clouds of tear gas.
The Palestine Red Crescent Society emergency service said it had evacuated 59 injured people to hospitals. Staffing said one of the guards at the site was shot in the eye with a rubber bullet.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said dozens of masked men carrying Palestinian and Hamas flags marched towards the compound on Friday morning and picked up stones.
“Police were forced into the field to disperse the crowd and remove stones and boulders, to prevent further violence,” he tweeted.
The mosque is the third holiest place in Islam. It is built on a hill which is the holiest site for the Jews, who call it the Temple Mount. This has been a major flashpoint for Israeli-Palestinian violence for decades.
Tensions have skyrocketed in recent weeks following a series of Palestinian bombings that killed 14 people inside Israel. Israel carried out a wave of arrests and military operations in the occupied West Bank, triggering clashes in which several Palestinians were killed.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians were expected to gather at Al-Aqsa for Friday prayers.
Weeks of protests and clashes in Jerusalem during Ramadan last year eventually sparked an 11-day war with the Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.
Israel lifted restrictions and took other steps to try to ease tensions ahead of Ramadan, which this year coincides with the Jewish Passover holiday and Christian Holy Week, bringing thousands of pilgrims and other visitors to Jerusalem.
But military attacks and raids have sparked a new wave of unrest.
Earlier this week, Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza called on Palestinians to camp at Al-Aqsa Mosque over the weekend. Palestinians have long feared that Israel is considering taking over the site or dividing it.
Israeli authorities say they are determined to maintain the status quo, but in recent years nationalist and religious Jews have visited the site in large numbers with police escorts.
Israel captured East Jerusalem, home to Al-Aqsa and other major holy sites, in the 1967 war and annexed it in an internationally unrecognized move. The Palestinians want the eastern part of the city to be the capital of a future independent state comprising the West Bank and Gaza, which Israel also captured in the war nearly 55 years ago.