Live updates from Israel: Search for assailants in ax attack underway

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Credit…Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The attack in Elad, Israel, came Thursday after several weeks of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police at the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, and days after a militant Palestinian leader urged Arabs to “prepare your cleavers, axes or knives” in response to Police interventions on the site.

The Aqsa Mosque is one of the holiest places in Islam and a symbol of Palestinian nationalism. The area is known as the Temple Mount to Jews, the site of two ancient temples and the holiest place in Judaism.

Clashes erupted there several times during the recent holy month of Ramadan, as Palestinians attempted to block what they feared were efforts to undermine Muslim access and surveillance at the site, and Israeli police mounted what they said were counterterrorism efforts to secure the site. and accessible to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Israeli authorities say there have been no changes to the longstanding arrangements at the site, and there are no plans to change them. However, in recent months Israeli police have routinely allowed silent Jewish prayer at the site, upsetting a decades-old convention banning it and angering Palestinians.

During recent violence, Palestinians have generally thrown stones and fireworks at police, while police have fired sponge-covered bullets and tear gas.

On Saturday, Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar warned that any further raids by police inside the compound would prompt a response from the group and urged Israel’s Arab residents to ‘ready your cleavers, axes or knives’ .

Tensions were expected at the site on Thursday, Israel’s Independence Day, as some ultra-nationalist groups had called on Israelis to enter the compound carrying Israeli flags in an assertion of Israeli sovereignty over the site. The Aqsa Mosque is in East Jerusalem, which Israel considers part of its capital and most of the world considers occupied.

Credit…Adel Hana/Associated Press

But tensions at the site on Thursday were actually less than in recent weeks, save for a brief streak of scuffles that lasted less than five minutes.

Police ordered Israeli visitors not to display Israeli flags and confiscated at least one flag after an Israeli woman tried to unfurl it on the mosque grounds.

The violence erupted briefly around 7:50 a.m. when a Palestinian blocked the path of a group of Israeli visitors, the video showed. The man was quickly arrested in a brief scuffle, and police formed a loose cordon between Israeli and Palestinian civilians.

Two minutes later, another fight broke out between the police and the Palestinians, in which the Palestinians threw four plastic chairs, and a group of Palestinians ran into the site’s main mosque and barricaded themselves outside. inside. Over the next three minutes, several explosions could be heard, but it was unclear whether they were gunshots fired by police or fireworks fired by Palestinians.

Police later said the Palestinians threw rocks and fireworks, although none were visible in the video at the time.

The officers briefly opened one of the mosque’s doors and stood inside the threshold for less than a minute. But the mood died down within five minutes and dozens of Muslims prayed throughout the morning on the terrace outside the main mosque.

Despite the relative calm, the reaction of the Palestinian leadership has been strident.

The PA Foreign Ministry called the police actions at the site “an official Israeli declaration of a religious war that would set the entire region ablaze.”

Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, later issued a statement calling it “a serious escalation and direct provocation and prefiguring an all-out explosion.”

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