Violence at Jerusalem mosque prompts fears of wider fighting

Israeli police stormed into the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City early Wednesday, firing stun grenades at Palestinian youths who hurled firecrackers at them in a burst of violence during a sensitive holiday season. Palestinian militants in Gaza responded with rocket fire on southern Israel, prompting repeated Israeli airstrikes.

The fighting, coming as Muslims mark the holiday month of Ramadan and Jews prepare to begin the Passover festival on Wednesday evening, raised fears of a wider conflagration. Similar clashes two years ago erupted into an 11-day war between Israel and the ruling Hamas militant group in Gaza. The Israeli military said one soldier was shot in a separate incident in the occupied West Bank.

The mosque sits on a sensitive hilltop compound holy to both Jews and Muslims. Al-Aqsa is the third-holiest site in Islam and is typically packed with worshippers during Ramadan. The spot, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, is also the holiest site in Judaism, who revere it as the location of the biblical Jewish temples. The conflicting claims fuel constant tensions that have spilled over to violence numerous times in the past.

The official Palestinian news agency Wafa said that dozens of worshippers who were spending the night praying were injured in the police raid.

The youths barricaded themselves inside the mosque in response to calls by Jewish ultranationalists to carry out a ritual slaughter of a goat in the compound, imitating the ancient ritual sacrifice executed on Passover in biblical times.

Israel bars these slaughters on the site, but calls by Jewish extremists to revive the practice, including offers of cash rewards to anyone who even attempts to bring an animal into the compound, have amplified fears...

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