JERUSALEM: Israeli police and Palestinian youths clashed again at a major Jerusalem holy site sacred to Jews and Muslims on Friday despite a temporary halt to Jewish visits to the site, which are seen as a provocation by the Palestinians.
Palestinians and Israeli police have regularly clashed at the site for the last week at a time of heightened tensions in the region following a string of deadly attacks inside Israel and arrest raids in the occupied West Bank. Three rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel.
Palestinian youths hurled stones toward police at a gate leading into the compound, according to two Palestinian witnesses who spoke on condition of anonymity out of security concerns. The police, in full riot gear, then entered the compound, firing rubber bullets and stun grenades.
The Palestinian Red Crescent medical service said nine Palestinians were wounded, two of which were seriously injured.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City is the third holiest site in Islam. The sprawling esplanade on which it is built is the holiest site for
Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it was the location of two Jewish temples in antiquity. It lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and clashes there have often ignited violence elsewhere.
Tens of thousands of Muslim worshippers are expected at the site later in the day for the main weekly prayers.
Palestinians and neighboring Jordan, the custodian of the site, accuse Israel of violating longstanding arrangements by allowing increasingly large numbers of Jews to visit the site under police escort.
A longstanding prohibition on Jews praying at the site has eroded in recent years, fueling fears among Palestinians that Israel plans to take over the site or partition it.
Israel says it remains committed to the status quo and blames the violence on incitement by the Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza.
It says its security forces are acting to thwart rock-throwers in order to ensure freedom of worship for Jews and Muslims.
Visits by Jewish groups were halted beginning Friday for the last 10 days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, as they have been in the past.
This year, the fasting month coincided with the Jewish Passover and major Christian holidays, with tens of thousands of people from all three faiths flocking to the Old City after the lifting of most coronavirus restrictions.