Israeli security forces have clashed with Palestinian protesters at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque. The international community has warned against a further escalation in hostilities.
Israeli police said officers entered the mosque compound early Tuesday morning to disperse a group of protesters who had barricaded themselves inside overnight.
According to agency reports, a number of troops entered the compound and deployed stun grenades and tear gas, as protesters hurled rocks, fireworks, concrete blocks and firebombs at them.
The hilltop in Jerusalem’s old city is sacred for both Jews and Muslims. It is the third holiest site in Islam, called the Noble Sanctuary, while Jews refer to it as the Temple Mount.
Non-Muslims are forbidden from praying there, and can only visit during certain hours. There have been frequent outbreaks of violence at the site, with protesters fearing Israel may move to change the rules amid a campaign by right-wing Jews to get more access to the area.
The latest unrest erupted Sunday morning just hours before the start of the Jewish new year holiday, Rosh Hashana.
Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said two Palestinians were arrested and five policemen were lightly injured in Tuesday’s clashes. The Palestinian Red Crescent said 26 people were wounded.
Azzam Khatib, the director of the Jordanian authority that oversees the compound, said police “stormed the al-Aqsa mosque,” venturing deep inside the holy site and causing damage in what he called “a very dangerous development.” Police denied the allegation and said they only removed a barricade blocking the entrance.
“Police forces did not penetrate into the interior of al-Aqsa mosque,” Samri said in a statement.
Calls for restraint
The United Nations, the United States and the European Union have issued calls for calm.
“The reported violence and escalation [at the site] constitute a provocation and incitement” ahead of important Jewish and Muslim holy days, European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday.
“It is crucial that all parties demonstrate calm and restraint and full respect for the status quo of the holy sites,” Kocijancic said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to convene an emergency meeting on Tuesday evening to discuss ways to curb violence surrounding the sacred areas.
Israel seized East Jerusalem, where al-Aqsa is located, in the Six Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move that was never recognized by the international community.