JERUSALEM (AFP) – Clashes erupted on Sunday between police and Palestinians at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the latest violence to shake Jerusalem’s flashpoint site holy to Muslims and Jews.
Police twice entered the compound in the morning after Palestinian demonstrators threw stones at visitors to the holy site, known to Muslims as Al-Haram Al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) and to Jews as the Temple Mount.
Once inside, police came under attack from stone-throwing youths and had to negotiate oil that Palestinians had spilled in an an effort to make them slip and fall, public radio reported.
“After rocks were thrown, large numbers of police entered the Temple Mount twice,” Jerusalem police chief Dudi Cohen told reporters.
“More than one hundred youths are still inside the mosque. At this stage, we have no intention of entering the mosque and we call on all those inside to leave,” he added.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said 12 people were arrested. Witnesses said police used stun grenades in running clashes with demonstrators in and around the Old City.
Kamal Khatib, a spokesman for the Israeli Arab Islamic Movement, which has been at the forefront of recent demonstrations at the compound, blamed police for the violence.
“The police always excuse their attacks by saying that the worshippers threw stones,” he told AFP. “It is clear they just want to justify their crimes.”
He added that police were stopping buses filled with Muslim worshippers in northern Israel in a bid to prevent them from reaching Jerusalem.
The office of Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas warned of “dangerous consequences” and called on Israel to “halt all provocative acts.”
“Jerusalem is a red line that cannot be crossed,” his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina told AFP, and called on the international community to intervene to “put pressure on the Israeli government.”
The Islamist Hamas movement ruling the Gaza Strip warned that “the Israeli occupation bears full responsibility for the negative consequences of this dangerous aggression, which violates every Muslim on the face of the earth.”
And the Saudi-based Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) condemned the Israeli police action as a “violation of all Muslim sanctuaries,” and called on the global Islamic community to defend the site.
Police deployed extra forces early on Sunday after calls for demonstrations around the holy site that has been the scene of clashes for several months.
The Palestinian calls for protests came amid rumours that right wing Jewish activists were planning to gather at the compound, site of the holiest place in Judaism and third-holiest in Islam, radio reports said.
The rumours began after an extreme right Jewish group, the Organisation for the Defence of Human Rights on the Temple Mount, urged Jews to gather at the mosque compound and the adjacent Western Wall, Judaism’s top pilgrimage site.
Sunday’s violence was the latest to rock the holy site, where perceived changes in the status quo have often sparked deadly clashes.
Two weeks of tensions over the compound exploded into violence on September 27, when Palestinians hurled rocks at visitors they suspected of being right wing Jewish extremists.
Police, who responded with stun grenades, said the group was made up of French tourists.
The latest incident came in a month when Jews mark three of their most important holidays, and fuelled suspicions among Palestinians that Jewish worshippers would try to pray at the revered site during this period.
In September 2000, the second Palestinian uprising or intifada erupted after Ariel Sharon, a right wing politician who went on to become Israel’s prime minister, visited the site.