JERUSALEM: Israeli police clashed with Muslim protestors on Sunday at a flashpoint Jerusalem Old City shrine as Jews were headed there to mark a religious holiday, police said.
The tensions and the Jewish pilgrimage to the highly sensitive Al Aqsa mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, were condemned by the Palestinians.
Israel’s right-wing nationalist Prime Minister Naftali Bennett stood by the state’s decision to allow Jews to visit the site.
According to police, in the early hours of the morning, Palestinian “youths began throwing stones at the Temple Mount esplanade towards police forces, who dispersed them”. There were no official reports of arrests or injuries.
It also called for respect for the site’s status quo and urged Israeli, religious and community leaders to urgently “calm down this explosive situation”.
The incident took place on the Jewish festival of Tisha B’av, marking the day of the year thousands of years ago when, according to tradition, both Jewish temples located on the Temple Mount were destroyed.
The holy site lies in east Jerusalem, which Israel occupied and annexed in 1967, but is administered by the Muslim Waqf organization which reluctantly grants Jews limited access.
A spokesman for a Jewish group encouraging such visits said that 1,679 pilgrims were at the mosque compound during Sunday morning and afternoon.
The Waqf condemned the “violations and attacks” carried out by “Jewish fanatic groups, with the support and political cover of the Israeli government,” it said in a statement carried by official Palestinian website Wafa, claiming Israel was “aiming for a religious war”.
And the Palestinian Authority accused Israel of “tampering with the security and stability of the region” by enabling the “incursions” of worshippers.
Newly sworn-in premier Bennett, who is from Israel’s religious right but heads a coalition including leftist and Islamist parties, said he had “instructed that the organized and safe visits by Jews to the Temple Mount continue while maintaining order at the site”.
In a second statement following the Waqf and PA condemnations, Bennett stressed that “freedom of worship on the Temple Mount will be fully preserved for Muslims as well”, pointing to the upcoming Eidul Azha.
Two years ago, when the Jewish and Muslim holidays coincided, violence at the site left dozens of Palestinians wounded and led to seven arrests.