JERUSALEM — Palestinian youths, some of them masked, clashed with Israeli police officers who entered Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque compound early Sunday in what appears to have become an increasingly familiar occurrence on the eve of Jewish holidays.
This time, the police said, they had intelligence that youths had holed up in the mosque overnight and were planning confront Israeli security forces in an attempt to prevent visits on the eve of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, the two-day holiday that began at sundown on Sunday.
The contested holy site is revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, and known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, the third holiest place in Islam.
The police said in a statement that the youths hurled stones, fireworks and metal bars at the officers, who responded with tear gas and other riot dispersal tactics. The confrontation was quickly contained, and the compound was opened to visitors.
Similar clashes took place in July as Jews marked an annual fast day commemorating the destruction of two ancient temples believed to have once stood at the holy site.
The Palestinian news media reported a number of injuries on the Palestinian side on Sunday. Saeb Erekat, the secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, denounced the police action and told the official Palestinian Authority radio that Israel had started carrying out “an old plan” to divide the compound — an assertion that is vehemently denied by Israel.
On Twitter, Izzat al-Risheq, a senior official of Hamas, called the ouster of the Palestinian youths “a dangerous escalation.” He also criticized the Palestinian Authority and Arab governments for failing to challenge “the current crime against Al Aqsa Mosque.”
Located in Jerusalem’s Old City, in territory Israel seized from Jordan in the 1967 war and then annexed in a move that was not internationally recognized, the compound has a special status: It is administered by the Islamic Waqf, under Jordanian custodianship, but Israel controls security. Tensions over the site have mounted over the last year and have often resulted in violence.
Israel maintains a ban on non-Muslim prayer at the site. But some nationalist Jewish activists have been agitating for increased access and prayer rights there, fanning Muslim fears that Israel intends to split the compound or change its status. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has repeatedly stated that there would be no change in the status quo.
In a statement on Sunday, Mr. Netanyahu said, “Israel will act with all means to preserve the status quo and law and order at the Temple Mount.”
After the clashes on Sunday, a right-wing Israeli minister, Uri Ariel, visited the compound, despite a plea by Mr. Netanyahu late last year for politicians to show restraint.
Last week, Israel officially outlawed an organization of Muslim women who chase and shout at Jewish visitors at the holy site, along with an affiliated, less-vocal group of men. The government accused both groups of inciting violence.
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(via NY Times)