Jerusalem police closed the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound to non-Muslim visitors on Thursday, in what they said was an effort to avoid a repetition of recent Palestinian unrest.
The decision followed disturbances on Wednesday in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem where police used stun grenades, water cannons and mounted officers against Palestinians who hurled rocks during protests marking the anniversary of Israel’s foundation in 1948.
“A decision was taken after the past 24 to 48 hours of incidents…and measures have been taken to prevent incidents on the Temple Mount,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP, using the Jewish term for the compound in the walled Old City, which houses the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosques.
The location is Islam’s third holiest site and is also Judaism’s most holy place, venerated as the site where the First and Second Jewish Temples once stood. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
Rosenfeld said that there had been no reported disturbance there on Thursday and the limitation of visitors was a preemptive move which would be reviewed later in the day.
“At the moment it’s quiet and we want it to continue to be quiet,” he said.
There were scuffles at the site last week as Israelis celebrated their capture of the Arab eastern sector of Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War.
At the United Nations, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday expressed concern to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over restricting access to holy sites in east Jerusalem.
“Regarding recent tensions in East Jerusalem, and more particularly restrictions of access to Muslim and Christian holy sites, the secretary general conveyed his concerns to the Israeli authorities,” said deputy UN spokesman Eduardo del Buey.
In 1948, more than 760,000 Palestinians — estimated today to number more than five million with their descendants — fled or were driven out of their homes.
Around 160,000 stayed behind and took Israeli citizenship. They and their descendants number about 1.3 million people, or some 20 percent of Israel’s population.