Riots outside Jerusalem holy site injure several people including police, reports say
Islamic Jihad and the militant group Hamas threatened increased violence on Sunday after a day of riots at a major Jerusalem holy site left at least four Israeli police officers and several Muslim and Jewish people injured, according to reports.
Palestinian medics said at least 14 people were wounded, one seriously, in the skirmishes with police at the site, which Muslims refer to as the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and Jews refer to as the Temple Mount.
Police said at least four officers were wounded and witnesses said at least two people were arrested, in the worst bout of fighting at the contested holy site in months.
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Israeli police stormed the site, firing stun grenades and clouds of tear gas swirled as crowds of Muslims protested the gathering of Jewish people at the entrance of the site, The Jerusalem Post reported.
Many Jews wanted to go in to mark Tisha Be’av (the Ninth of Av), a day of fasting and mourning for the destruction of the two Biblical temples which stood at the site in antiquity.
Nearly 18,000 Jewish worshippers went to the holy site on Sunday, the newspaper reported, citing police figures.
Police said tens of thousands of Muslims flocked to the site in Jerusalem’s Old City early on Sunday marking the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha.
The site, which has long been a flashpoint at the epicenter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is the holiest for Jews and the third holiest for Muslims, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
The nation of Jordan, which serves as the custodian of the holy site, said in a statement through its foreign ministry that it had sent a formal complaint to Israel and criticized what it called Israel’s “irresponsible provocations.”
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi tweeted Sunday, “We condemn Israel’s violations of sanctity of Al Aqsa, especially on this holy day. Its attempts to change the status quo in occupied #Jerusalem & its holy sites will only lead to more violence, threatening security of all. Int’l community cannot remain silent on these violations.”
Many Palestinians had gathered at the gates of the compound early Sunday after rumors circulated that police would allow Jewish visitors to enter the site.
Protesters threw stones at police and chanted “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”) and police reportedly retaliated by charging into the compound while firing stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets.
Police initially blocked Jewish people from entering the site to prevent conflict, according to the Jerusalem Post, which reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had instructed them to do so at first. The newspaper reported that this led to “sharp criticism” and a later reversal, with Netanyahu denying he gave such an order.
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Israel is headed to unprecedented repeat elections next month after Netanyahu failed to form a government following April’s elections.
Netanyahu said in a tweet that after consulting with security forces on Thursday he made the decision to allow Jewish people to go to the Temple Mount on Sunday even though it coincided with a Muslim holiday.
He added, “The question was not at all if they could go up, but how to best manage it from a public safety standpoint, and that is exactly what we did.”
Several dozen Jewish people entered the site under close police escort and Muslim worshippers began throwing chairs and other objects at them. Jewish visitors left the compound shortly thereafter.
Jewish people typically are not allowed to pray at the compound under a longstanding arrangement between Israel and Muslim authorities.
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The compound is in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the Six-Day War in 1967 along with the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.