JERUSALEM — Masked Palestinian youths clashed with Israeli police in Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque compound on Sunday, as Jews marked an annual day of mourning commemorating the destruction of two ancient temples believed to have once stood at the holy site.
The Palestinians, equipped with stones, wooden planks, flares and firebombs, had barricaded themselves inside the mosque overnight, the police said in a statement. They said the youths were preparing for a confrontation meant to prevent Jewish visitors from accessing the site, revered by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and by Jews as the Temple Mount.
Clashes broke out in the courtyard as Palestinians threw stones, fired flares and sprayed an unidentified liquid at the police, who responded with stun grenades and tear gas. After some rioters ran back inside the mosque, the police said, Israeli forces entered a few yards into the mosque to close the doors and restore calm. Three Palestinians were arrested, the police said.
Tensions had been building before the Jewish day of fasting and after an Orthodox Jewish woman visiting the site hurled an insult in Arabic about the Prophet Muhammad at a group of Muslim women who were protesting the presence of Jews there. That episode was caught on video.
Violence has flared at the contested holy site over the last year, as some nationalist Israelis challenged a decades-old ban on Jewish prayer at the site and as Palestinians protested against them and against subsequent Israeli limitations on the entry of Muslim worshipers. The clashes have spread to predominantly Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.
Israel seized the compound from Jordan in the 1967 war, along with the rest of East Jerusalem, and annexed it in a move that was not internationally recognized. Israeli Jews and tourists are allowed to visit the compound, but the police ban non-Muslim rituals there, saying it poses a threat to public order.
Hatem Abdul Qader, a Palestinian representative of the Fatah party in Jerusalem, blamed Sunday’s violence on the “provocative” visits to the site by nationalist Jews, backed by the Israeli government. He told Voice of Palestine, the Palestinian Authority’s official radio station, that Israel would be held responsible for the consequences.
Israel has blamed the waves of violence on what it describes as incitement by Palestinian leaders and in the Palestinian news media.
The unrest of the past year has severely strained Israel’s relations with Jordan, which remains the official custodian of the sacred compound, while Israel is in charge of security.
Jordan recalled its ambassador from Israel for three months over what the Jordanians called Israeli violations at the holy site, and after forces had entered the mosque to try to quell violent protests. The ambassador returned to Tel Aviv in February.
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(via NY Times)