JERUSALEM (AFP) – Clashes broke out at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound on Sunday after police entered to arrest Palestinians who had hurled rocks at visitors they believed were Jewish extremists.
At least 13 people were wounded just outside the compound when dozens of Palestinians pelted stones at Israeli police, who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, according to an AFP correspondent.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said security forces entered the compound after Muslim worshippers threw rocks at the group of unidentified visitors.
“Around 20 young people are holed up inside the mosque, and as a preventive measure we have decided to limit access to the esplanade to men over the age of 50,” as well as women and children, he added.
Dozens of police wearing riot gear were deployed throughout the narrow streets of the Old City as loudspeakers on minarets called on Muslims to “save Jerusalem.”
An official from Jerusalem’s Islamic Supreme Committee said the Palestinians hurled stones at people they believed to be Jewish extremists intending to pray at the site and upset the delicate status quo.
“They threw rocks because (Israeli) settlers have been surrounding the compound for two or three days and had said they intended to enter on Sunday or Monday to pray at Al-Aqsa,” Adnan Husseini told AFP.
Jews, who observe the Purim holiday on Sunday and Monday, are allowed into the compound, but authorities prevent them from praying there.
The Al-Aqsa mosque compound is Islam’s third-holiest site, after Mecca and Medina. Muslims refer to it as the Al-Haram Al-Sharif and believe it to be the place where the Prophet Mohammed made a night journey to heaven on horseback.
It is the holiest site in the world for Jews, who believe it was the location of the Second Temple, torched by the Romans in 70 AD, and refer to it as the Temple Mount.
The site has been bitterly contested for decades, and the second Palestinian uprising, or intifada, erupted there in September 2000 after a visit by Ariel Sharon, a right-wing politician who went on to become Israeli prime minister.
Violence erupted on several occasions starting last September after Muslim worshippers hurled stones at people they believed to be Jews seeking to pray at the site during major holidays.
Israeli authorities insisted the visitors were French tourists.
The latest disturbances comes after days of clashes in the West Bank town of Hebron over an Israeli plan to renovate the Tomb of the Patriarchs there, another ancient site revered by Jews and Muslims.