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Protests in Jerusalem

October 8, 2014

Palestinian youths and Israeli police have clashed at a flashpoint religious site in Jerusalem as a group of Jewish Israelis approached while marking the start of a holiday. The incident left a number of people injured.

Jerusalem Protest
Image: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images

Eyewitnesses said some 30 Palestinian demonstrators clashed with Israeli police in Jerusalem early on Wednesday at the site known to Jews as Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

The incident came on the eve of the weeklong Jewish holiday of Sukkot, or the Feast of the Tabernacles.

Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samri said police responded with "nonlethal riot control means" when the youths threw stones and fired flares as Jewish visitors ascended toward the compound.

The youths later drew back from police and barricaded themselves inside the mosque and continued to throw objects, she said, adding that four officers were slightly injured.

Samri said five protestors were arrested. Palestinian medics said 17 persons were injured.

Jordan - under its 1994 peace treaty with Israel - is the custodian of Muslim sites in Jerusalem.

Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed Momeni accused Israeli police of preventing religious officials from clearing Muslims from the the area while at the same time enabling Jewish extremists to "storm it, and pray with security forces' protection."

Samri alleged that the Palestianians had prepared for the confrontation ahead of time.

Confrontation avoidable?

Non-Muslims may visit the Al-Aqsa complex, but Israeli authorities normally prevent non-Islamic prayer at the site for fear it could trigger major disturbances. Jews normally worship instead at the Western Wall below the complex.

Earlier this week, Palestinian officials had condemned a decision by Israel's Tourism Ministry to expand the entry to the site.

Jerusalem Proteste 08.10.2014
Israeli forces denied Palestinians entryImage: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images

Jordan: Rules ignored

Azzam al-Khatib, the director of the Islamic Waqf body that oversees the site, said he had implored police to prevent the right-wing group from visiting the compound in order to avoid clashes with the group of Muslims which had spent the night at the mosque.

"I asked that there would be no contact, but police refused, and this is the result," he told AFP.

Tensions high since June

Tensions have been high in Jerusalem since June when Hamas militants abducted and killed three Jewish students in the West Bank. A group of Israeli men then burned a Palestinian teenager alive in a revenge attack.

Israel subsequently launched a 50-day military offensive in Gaza that ended on August 26. According to the UN, the conflagation killed more than 2,100 Palestinians and 72 on the Israeli side -- all but six soldiers.

Netanyahu, Abbas exchange blame

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had instructed Israel's security establishment to increase patrols in Jerusalem and take "vigorous action," noting what he called a rise in "stone-throwing and violence."

"We need to deal with this not just due to the holidays but in a thorough manner," Netanyahu said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday accused Israeli authorities of allowing "attacks on [the] Al-Aqsa mosque, led by settlers and extremists, and under the auspices of the Israeli government."

Abbas' statement follows his recent speech at the United Nations in New York where he questioned the value of peace talks with Israel.

mkg/ipj (AFP, dpa, AP)