JERUSALEM (AFP) – Police massed in Jerusalem’s Old City on Monday following clashes with Palestinians near the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and as tens of thousands of Jews were expected to attend a religious ceremony.
Authorities restricted access to the compound to Muslim men aged 50 and over, with no restrictions for women, after Sunday’s clashes in which seven Palestinian protesters were injured and three arrested.
Thousands of security officers deployed in and around the Old City, particularly in the vicinity of the compound which is holy to both Muslims and Jews, and the Western Wall, the main Jewish pilgrimage site also known as the Wailing Wall.
“These measures were taken to avert new incidents on the compound and the Old City and to prevent stones being thrown at the Jewish faithful who come to pray at the Western Wall,” said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
On Sunday morning, police closed access to the Al-Aqsa compound, known to Muslims as Al-Haram Al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) and to Jews as the Temple Mount, saying calls for Muslims to gather there were inciting violence.
Clashes broke out after more than 150 people gathered to pray outside the compound. Following the prayers, worshippers threw stones and security forces responded with stun grenades and fired a water cannon.
Rumours had earlier swept through the Old City that the Israeli authorities would allow right-wing Jewish settlers to enter the compound during the current Jewish festival of Sukkot.
On Monday tens of thousands of Jewish worshippers were expected at the Western Wall, below the compound, for the Priestly Blessing ceremony as part of Sukkot celebrations.
Rosenfeld said “hostile elements are inciting to violence,” pointing the finger at the Islamic Movement, an Arab-Israeli group that regularly calls the faithful to rally to the defence of Al-Aqsa.
The Palestinian Authority on Sunday urged the international community to “immediately intervene and bring the question of the Al-Aqsa mosque before the UN Security Council.”
Jordan, meanwhile, summoned Israel’s ambassador in Amman on Sunday to demand a halt to “repeated violations” by the Jewish state at compound.
One week ago several people were wounded in unrest that erupted after a group of non-Muslims entered the mosque compound. Police said the group was made up of French tourists, but the Palestinians insisted they were Israeli extremists.
The site of the compound is the holiest in Judaism and third holiest in Islam, and has often been a flashpoint for Israeli-Palestinian violence.
The second Palestinian uprising, or intifada, began there in September 2000 after a visit by Ariel Sharon, the right-wing politician who went on to become Israeli prime minister the following year.