The Hamas terror group on Thursday called on Palestinians to “mobilize” for Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, in defense of the holy site and Jerusalem.
In a statement, the organization hailed the steadfastness of protesters who “repelled the incursions of the occupation and its settlers with courage and pride, assuring everyone far and wide that Al-Aqsa has men who protect it and defend its purity, despite the ugliness of aggression and terrorism of the occupiers.”
At the same time, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh held a phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on security developments in the Gaza Strip and Jerusalem, his office said.
According to the Palestinian Shehab news agency, Haniyeh expressed appreciation for Moscow’s support of Palestinian rights at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The head of the terror group accused Israel of preventing worshipers from reaching the Jerusalem holy site, assaulting and arresting worshipers and vandalizing property.
Meanwhile, Shehab reported, Lavrov said Russia has “always been on the side of the Palestinian people in their right to self-determination and their right to establish their Palestinian state.”
He denounced what he called Israel’s excessive use of force against civilians in the capital.
Thursday morning saw Palestinians and Israeli police engage in fresh skirmishes on the Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa.
According to police, dozens of masked rioters entered the mosque and sealed the doors before starting to hurl rocks and fireworks at officers, who responded with riot dispersal means.
The Red Crescent said 20 Palestinians were wounded in the clashes.
Thursday was the final day that Jewish visitors were allowed to access the site ahead of a closure until the end of Ramadan on May 2, as part of a years-long policy of barring non-Muslims from the site during the final 10 days of the Muslim holy month.
Video showed Jewish visitors touring the site as Thursday’s clashes raged, with smoke and the sound of blasts coming from the direction of the mosque.
The Temple Mount is a frequent flashpoint of Israeli-Palestinian tensions, with clashes there last year helping precipitate the 11-day military conflict between Israel and terror groups in the Gaza Strip after the enclave’s Hamas rulers fired rockets at Jerusalem. The site is the most sacred place for Jews as the location of the biblical temples, and Al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits atop the Temple Mount, is the third-holiest site for Muslims.
Jerusalem has been a tinderbox in recent weeks as Palestinians scraped with police on the flashpoint Temple Mount, the Ramadan and Passover holidays drew thousands to holy sites, Israeli security forces cracked down on terror in the West Bank, and Gaza terror groups stoked the flames.
On Thursday, Haniyeh said that “we are still at the beginning of the battle” and warned Israel over the Temple Mount.
“As we defeated the so-called Flag March, we will defeat the policy of invading [Al-Aqsa],” Ismail Haniyeh said, after police barred Jewish nationalists from marching through the Old City’s Damascus Gate on Wednesday.
His comments came after Israel and Gaza-based terrorists clashed in the largest exchange of fire since last year’s fighting, with the military carrying out air raids in the Strip in response to rocket fire and the launch of anti-aircraft missiles.