Palestinians clashed with Israeli police at Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Sunday just hours before the start of the Jewish New Year, police and witnesses said.
The clashes came with tensions running high after Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon last week outlawed two Muslim groups that protect the mosque, and confront Jewish visitors to the compound, which is holy to both faiths.
Witnesses told Ma’an that Israeli forces stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound Sunday morning, firing rubber-coated steel bullets and stun grenades and injuring several worshipers.
Witnesses said Israeli forces stormed the compound through the Chain and Moroccan gates shortly after dawn prayer.
The forces then surrounded worshipers inside Al-Aqsa Mosque and closed its doors with chains and bars before they started to fire rubber-coated bullets inside the mosque, witnesses said. The Israeli forces also attacked some Palestinians with pepper spray.
According to police, the rioters had barricaded themselves in the mosque overnight with the aim of disrupting visits by Jews to the site ahead of the start of New Year celebrations on Sunday evening.
Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld told Ma’an that Israeli forces entered the compound at 6:30 a.m. to deal with “disturbances” inside the compound, after which “Palestinians threw fire and fireworks” at the forces, who then closed off the main gates of Al-Aqsa mosque.
Israeli forces allegedly found “a number of pipe bombs” at the compound during the raid, which Rosenfeld said he believes would have been used when visitors entered the area later that morning.
The compound opened for visitors as schedules at 8 a.m..
Israeli forces said no arrests were made and no injuries were reported, however Palestinians witnesses reported several injuries.
An AFP journalist saw a number of people being detained and heavy police deployments in the Old City.
A Palestinian boy identified as Anas Siyam was evacuated to hospital after he was hit with a rubber-coated steel bullet in the chest.
His condition is unknown.
Witnesses added that Israeli soldiers also assaulted employees of the Palestinian Ministry of Endowment, including the the director of the compound Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani.
Prior to the attacks, Israeli forces denied all women and young men entry into the compound. Only a small number of men above 50 were allowed to enter the holy site. Meanwhile, dozens of young men entered the compound on Saturday evening and spent the night inside.
Later that morning, Israeli minister of agriculture Uri Ariel entered the compound via the Moroccan gate, heavily escorted by Israeli forces.
More than 30 right-wing Israelis also toured the compound, witnesses said.
A spokesman of the Palestinian Authority’s Fatah movement in Jerusalem, Raafat Ulayyan, urged the Palestinians in the West Bank and in Israel to “hurry to defend” the holy Muslim place from which “our prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.”
He added in a statement, received by Ma’an, that Muslim and Arab countries should “double their efforts” to defend Al-Aqsa mosque against an ongoing “process of Judaisation”.
Senior Palestinian officials have expressed concerns in recent weeks that Israel is restricting access to the compound in a bid to establish daily Jewish prayer, despite an agreement forbidding non-Muslim worship at the site.
Israeli authorities have not responded to the claims.
The third holiest site in Islam, the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is also venerated as Judaism’s most holy place as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood.
Following Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel has maintained an agreement with the Islamic trust that controls the Al-Aqsa compound not to allow non-Muslim prayer in the area.
Jewish prayer is allowed at the neighboring Western Wall, which is the last remnant of the Second Temple.
However, Israeli forces have regularly escorted Jewish visitors to the Al-Aqsa compound, leading to anger among Muslim worshipers.
At the end of June, International Crisis Group reported discussions between Israel and the Islamic trust in Jordan on allowing non-Muslim worship at the site, although the move has not been confirmed. MAANNEWS/AP