Clashes erupted on Sunday between Israeli police and Palestinians in and around the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the latest violence to shake Jerusalem’s flashpoint site holy to Muslims and Jews.
Palestinians hurled rocks from the rooftops of the Old City and set alight piles of rubbish, filling the narrow, centuries-old alleys with smoke as police manned barricades and used stun grenades to disperse the crowds.
Police twice entered the compound itself 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.
The first time police entered they 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 15 people were arrested for attacking police and that Hatem Abdel Qader, the former Jerusalem affairs minister in the Palestinian Authority, was detained for “incitement to violence.”
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,” calling 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.
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.