Israeli security forces used stun grenades and rubber bullets against Palestinians outside the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, where thousands of worshipers had been attending Friday prayers, puncturing a half-day of calm brought on by a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
A CNN journalist at the mosque compound said dozens of Israeli officers hit journalists with batons and tried to point rifles at them, calling them “liars” when they showed them their press cards.
The officers moved on to the compound as thousands of worshipers chanted in solidarity with Gaza and with Palestinian residents of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where some Palestinian families are facing eviction.
The Palestinian Authority strongly condemned what it is describing as an “incursion” by Israeli police at the mosque compound, the official Palestinian News Agency, WAFA, reported Friday.
“The Israeli government, by continuing its policy of provocation, attacks and incursions, is challenging international efforts that have been made to reach a calm and stop the violence and escalation in Jerusalem and the occupied Palestinian territories, and to stop the aggression on Gaza,” the statement said.
An Israeli police spokesperson said the officers were responding to a riot by hundreds of young Palestinians that included the throwing of stones at police forces.
CNN witnessed people, including screaming children, fleeing the scene to the sound of stun grenade blasts. The Palestinian Red Crescent said it treated 20 injuries following clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police at the compound. Two people were taken to hospital, while the rest were treated in the field, the aid group said.
The mosque and evictions have been flashpoints in the recent conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which according to the Hamas-run health ministry, left 248 Palestinians in Gaza dead, including 66 children, and 12 in Israel — including two children — who died from militant fire, according to the IDF and Israel’s emergency service.
A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas at 2 a.m. and the streets of Jerusalem and Gaza had been peaceful, albeit lively, for hours, with Palestinians and Arab citizens of Israel celebrating the end of the worst conflict in years.
UN human rights experts called on all parties in the conflict to respect the ceasefire on Friday, while also calling for an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) “into the attacks on civilian populations and other gross violations of human rights,” according to a statement.
They pointed to the “forced evictions of Palestinian families living in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan in Occupied East Jerusalem as the spark that set off a full-blown war.” The experts urged the ICC to investigate acts by all parties which violate the Rome Statute, especially war crimes, including targeting of civilians.
Crowds in Gaza waved Palestinian flags and shot fireworks, also celebrating Eid al Fitr belatedly as the conflict with Israel forced Muslims to delay their celebrations marking the end of Ramadan.
Hundreds of people drove around historically Arab east Jerusalem honking their car horns in celebration, and video footage from social media and television showed similar scenes in other cities, including Umm al-Fahm in Israel and Ramallah in the West Bank.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) carried out a massive aerial bombardment of Gaza, while Hamas fired thousands of rockets into Israel during the 11 days of violence.
Hamas’ infrastructure was pummelled by the Israeli Air Force, which took out huge sections of its tunnel network and buildings that the IDF said housed Hamas commanders or were used to store weapons.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed the Israeli operation in Gaza was a success, saying in a televised address Friday that “Hamas can’t hide any more.”
“We hit Hamas more than their leaders ever could have imagined. We changed the rules of the game with this operation,” Netanyahu said.
The political leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, also sought to declare victory in a speech on Friday afternoon, saying “the resistance is much stronger today.”
“Gaza victory is for the sake of Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa Mosque, Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, and the West Bank,” Haniya said. “All the blood that was shed in this battle and the battles that preceded it is the resistance on the road to Jerusalem.”
Haniyeh also thanked Iran, “which has given money and weapons to the valiant resistance,” and Egypt, which he said was following the battle closely and had exercised its “historical role to curb the aggression.”
US President Joe Biden welcomed the truce overnight after facing a barrage of criticism from within his own party that he was not doing enough to persuade Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to end the country’s airstrikes in Gaza.
“I believe the Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely, and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy,” Biden said. “My administration will continue our quiet, relentless diplomacy toward that end.”
Biden, who has had a working relationship with Netanyahu over four decades, sought to deflect criticism that his administration had not been active enough in what has become the President’s biggest foreign policy challenge since he took office in January.
“We’ve held intensive high-level discussions, hour-by-hour, literally, (with) Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and other Middle Eastern countries with an aim of avoiding the sort of prolonged conflict we’ve seen in previous years when the hostilities have broken out,” Biden said in evening remarks on Thursday.
Now the US’ attention will turn to the enormous task of rebuilding Gaza, where many civilians, their homes and services were caught up in strikes aimed at Hamas.
In northern Gaza’s Beit Hanoun, residents from a blown-out building were seen sorting through the rubble, using heavy machinery to clear the worst of the debris, as a boy stood amid the destruction, his hands covering his face in disbelief.
Personal items, including a wheelchair and a child’s bed, poked through the mounds of concrete.
Biden said he was ready “to work with the United Nations and other international stakeholders to provide rapid humanitarian assistance and to marshal international support for the people of Gaza and the Gaza reconstruction efforts.”
“We will do this in full partnership with the Palestinian Authority, not Hamas, the Authority, in a manner that does not permit Hamas to simply restock its military arsenal,” Biden said.
But the US President knows the Palestinian Authority holds limited sway in Gaza, and signs are the latest round of fighting has weakened its position outside the coastal enclave as well.
Israeli Foreign Minister, Gabi Ashkenazi, spoke with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, on Friday night, to discuss measures to rebuild areas that had been destroyed in Gaza. According to a statement released by Egypt’s Foreign Ministery, the two “discussed measures to facilitate the reconstruction of Gaza” and stressed the importance of working in coordination between the two countries, the Palestinian Authority and international partners.”
A video filmed overnight at the Al Aqsa mosque showed crowds chanting “the people demand the overthrow of the president,” in reference to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. It’s just one of the indications that Hamas — a rival of the Fatah movement led by Abbas — appears to have gained popular support during the conflict with Israel.
The Palestinian political situation is in itself complicated. Abbas in April delayed the first parliamentary elections in 15 years, extending a long-running rivalry where his Fatah movement governs the West Bank, while Gaza is run by Hamas. The Islamic Jihad militant group is also active in Gaza.