Holy Days, Bloody Days

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Palestinians and Israeli police clashed at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem over the weekend, the latest unrest that has followed an uptick in violence in recent weeks that has raised concerns over a wider conflict, the New York Times reported Sunday.

Sunday’s clash was the most recent skirmish between Israeli authorities and Palestinians at the site, considered holy for both Jews and Muslims. It came a few days after more than 150 Palestinians were injured in scuffles with police.

On Friday, Israeli officials said police arrested hundreds of Palestinians. They added that the violence started after Palestinians began throwing stones and other objects at police and at worshippers at a nearby Jewish prayer area of the Western Wall in the Old City after Ramadan morning prayers, according to Reuters.

Palestinian witnesses, however, said that a small group of Palestinians hurled rocks at police – who allegedly entered the compound in force – and set off a larger fray, the Associated Press noted.

The Al-Aqsa mosque is the third holiest place in Islam, and it is situated on a hilltop in Jerusalem’s Old City that is also the most important site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it was the location of Jewish temples in antiquity.

For decades, the area has been a major flashpoint for Israeli-Palestinian violence.

The weekend clashes came amid a recent wave of violence that began last month: A series of attacks by Palestinian assailants killed 14 people in Israel, prompting Israeli forces to carry out military raids and arrests across the occupied West Bank. At least 25 Palestinians have been killed in operations.

The tensions come at the beginning of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, which this year is coinciding with the Jewish holiday of Passover and the Christian holidays of Easter.

This has raised fears that clashes will turn into a full-scale conflict: Last year, clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police at Al-Aqsa and threats of Palestinian displacement in East Jerusalem sparked the 11-day war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas.

This year, Israel has relaxed restrictions and other moves to defuse tensions.

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