Muslims clash with police at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque

Fighting erupted after Jewish visitors ascended to the compound on the eve of the week-long holiday Sukkot, Israeli police said.

Palestinians demonstrate outside the Dome of Rock at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, Islam's third-holiest site, on Wednesday. Ahmad Gharabli / AFP
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JERUSALEM // Palestinian demonstrators clashed with Israeli police at the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem on Wednesday.

The clashes erupted after Jewish visitors ascended to the compound on the eve of the week-long holiday Sukkot, Israeli police said.

Palestinian medics said 17 were injured in the clashes as police chased the demonstrators toward the Al Aqsa mosque, where they barricaded themselves inside.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas blamed Israel for the friction at the holy site, saying that it was deliberately raising tensions there.

“The Israeli attacks on Al Aqsa mosque, led by settlers and extremists, and under the auspices of the Israeli government, have recently increased and intensified,” Mr Abbas said.

An Israeli Tourism Ministry decision earlier this week to expand the entrance to the Jerusalem site was condemned by Palestinian officials as a unilateral change in the status of site.

There are frequent clashes at Al Aqsa between police and Palestinians, who object to what they see as an attempted Jewish and Israeli takeover of the compound that is administered by Jordanian and Palestinian Muslim authorities.

Azzam Al Khatib, director of the Islamic Waqf (religious endowments) body that oversees the site, said he had implored police to prevent Jews from visiting in order to avoid clashes with a group of Muslims who had spent the night at the mosque.

“I asked that there would be no contact, but police refused, and this is the result,” he said.

The Israeli police spokeswoman said the protesters threw stones and petrol bombs, lightly wounding four officers.

Jordan, which under its 1994 peace treaty with Israel is the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, condemned Israeli security forces’ conduct at the site.

“The forces of the occupation ... prevented religious officials entering and cleared it of all Muslims, while at the same time enabling Jewish extremists to storm it, and pray with security forces protection,” government spokesman Mohammed Momeni said.

He called on Israel to “stop its devastating campaign against the Al Aqsa mosque, religious officials and worshippers,” slamming “police ... firing bullets and bombs inside the compound, which injured dozens of people.”

The site houses both the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third holiest site. It is also revered by Jews as the location of the biblical Jewish temples.

Non-Muslim visits to the Al Aqsa complex are permitted and regulated by police, but Jews are not allowed to pray at the site for fear it could trigger major disturbances. Jews pray instead at the Western Wall below.

*Associated Press and Agence France-Presse