Clashes broke out at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound Wednesday as dozens of Palestinian youths protested against Jews visiting the flashpoint holy site ahead of a religious feast, Israeli police said.
The youths threw stones and fired flares at police after Jewish visitors ascended to the compound on the eve of the week-long holiday Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.
The site is the scene of frequent clashes between police and Palestinian youths, who object to what they see as an attempted Jewish and Israeli takeover of the site that is administered by Jordanian and Palestinian Muslim authorities.
It houses the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, and is revered by Jews as the location of the biblical Jewish temples, considered Judaism’s holiest place.
Non-Muslim visits to the Al-Aqsa complex are permitted and regulated by police, but Jews are not allowed to pray at the site for fear it could trigger major disturbances. Jews pray instead at the Western Wall below.
Police pushed demonstrators away from the area above the Western Wall and towards the Al-Aqsa mosque, from where they threw stones and petrol bombs, lightly wounding four officers, Samri told AFP, adding that the visit then went ahead.
An AFP correspondent nearby heard several explosions from the compound.
Police regularly throw stun grenades and sometimes fire rubber or sponge bullets to disperse protesters.
Samri said five protesters were arrested and Palestinian medics said 17 were injured in Wednesday’s clashes.
Azzam al-Khatib, director of the Islamic Waqf (religious endowments) body that oversees the site, said he had implored police to prevent Jews from visiting in order to avoid clashes with a group of Muslims who had spent the night at the mosque.
“I asked that there would be no contact, but police refused, and this is the result,” he told AFP.
– Palestinian, Jordan condemnation –
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Wednesday accused the Israeli government of complicity in allowing Jewish “extremists” into the compound.
“Aggression against the blessed Al-Aqsa mosque is increasing, led by settlers and extremists, sponsored by the Israeli government,” he said in a statement.
Jordan, which under its 1994 peace treaty with Israel is the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, condemned Israeli security forces’ conduct at the holy site.
“The forces of the occupation … prevented religious officials entering (the compound) and cleared it of all Muslims, while at the same time enabling Jewish extremists to storm it, and pray with security forces protection,” government spokesman Mohammed Momeni said in a statement.
He called on Israel to “stop its devastating campaign against the Al-Aqsa mosque, religious officials and worshippers,” slamming “police… firing bullets and bombs inside the compound, which injured dozens of people.”
On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the security establishment to increase forces in Jerusalem and take “vigorous action” against those who disrupt order, noting a rise in “stone-throwing and violence.”
“We need to deal with this not just due to the holidays but in a thorough manner,” he said.
Since July’s killing of a Palestinian teen by Jewish extremists and a bloody 50-day Israeli military offensive in Gaza that ended on August 26, Palestinians youths have been almost constantly on the streets throwing stones and petrol bombs at police, motorists and public transport.