Middle East

Jerusalem holy site witnesses fresh clashes

Israeli riot police take shelter as they approach the al-Aqsa mosque during clashes with Palestinian protesters at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem (28 September 2015) Image copyright AFP
Image caption Israeli police said attempts to "restore quiet and security" through dialogue failed

There have been fresh clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians at a disputed holy site in Jerusalem.

Police fired tear gas at youths who were throwing stones and petrol bombs.

The site, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as the Temple Mount, is often the scene of clashes, but tensions have risen in recent weeks.

Many Palestinians suspect Israel wants to make changes to the status quo that has governed rights of access since 1967 - something Israel has denied.

The US has said it is deeply concerned about the violence and called on all parties to "exercise restraint and refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric".

'No option'

After clashing with Israeli police at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound on Sunday morning, Palestinian protesters barricaded themselves inside the al-Aqsa mosque overnight, stockpiling stones and other projectiles.

They vowed to "defend" the mosque - the third holiest in Islam - during the eight-day Jewish festival of Sukkot, which began on Monday and was expected to bring an increase in Jewish visitors, according to the AFP news agency.

An Israeli police statement said officers failed in their attempt to "restore quiet and security" through dialogue - including with the Islamic Waqf, which manages the site.

"No other option was left but to initiate a seizure of the dangerous weapons that were intended to harm visitors and police and to endanger their lives," it added.

The protesters threw rocks, firebombs and firecrackers at police, sparking a small fire at the entrance to the al-Aqsa mosque, according to the statement.

However, sources at the Jordanian-funded Waqf told AFP that Israeli police stun grenades were responsible for triggering four fires inside the building.

The police said the protesters were eventually repelled and the compound reopened to Muslim worshippers, Jewish visitors and tourists.

The Palestinian Red Crescent reported that 22 people were wounded in the clashes, with three requiring treatment in hospital after being hit by rubber bullets.

Palestinians have been alarmed by rumours that Israel is planning to change the delicate status quo at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound, which allows Jews to visit the site but not pray there.

However, Israel's prime minister has insisted he is committed to maintaining it.

"We are not the ones to change the status quo. Those who take pipe bombs to mosques are the ones changing the status quo," Benjamin Netanyahu said last Thursday.

Israel has banned Muslim men under the age of 50 from worshipping at the compound on occasion - including during Sukkot this year - but argues that it is about maintaining order.