Clashes rock Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque

Jerusalem (AFP) – Israeli police Sunday entered Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites, as they clashed with Palestinians angered by Jews’ access to the compound on an annual day of Jewish mourning.

Palestinians threw stones and fireworks while police fired stun grenades after security forces entered the Al-Aqsa compound, which is also revered by Jews, before briefly going inside the mosque itself.

Police said they went a few metres (yards) into the mosque to shut the doors in a bid to restore calm and lock in rioters who were inside.

About 300 security personnel had entered the compound when the clashes began with about 200 Palestinians, an AFP photographer reported.

The Palestinian government said Israel’s actions proved it wanted to “drag the region into a religious war”.

Jordan, the custodian of the compound, said: “The repeated Israeli violations of the sanctity of the holy site are a provocation against the feelings of Arabs and Muslims… designed to ignite further hostility.”

It was the first time Israeli security forces had entered the mosque since November, when clashes with worshippers also erupted.

There were multiple arrests linked to the latest clashes, which came as Jews sought to access the mosque compound to mark Tisha B’av, a day commemorating the destruction in ancient times of the first and second temples.

– Major flashpoint –

Palestinians were angered by what they considered intrusions by Jews. Visits are allowed, but Jewish prayer at the site is prohibited.

The hilltop compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, one of the biggest flashpoints in the Middle East, is the most sacred site in Judaism and Islam’s third holiest, after Mecca and Medina. Jews refer to the site as the Temple Mount.

Police said Palestinian youths had prepared to clash with them, spending the night in the mosque in which they had stored stones and fireworks, as well as wooden planks to prevent police from closing the doors.

Upon seeing police at the northern steps to the mosque in the morning, “they began throwing stones at them and firing fireworks”.

They then barricaded themselves in the mosque, from where they continued to attack the forces, according to authorities.

“In light of the severe confrontation and the escalating actions of the rioters and with the aim of preventing further injury to police… forces entered a number of metres inside and closed the doors to the mosque with the rioters inside, restoring order,” police said.

Police reinforcements had deployed in the Old City overnight for fear of unrest as thousands of observant Jews flocked to the Western Wall, located below the mosque complex, for the annual prayer ceremony.

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