Jerusalem: Israeli police closed the gates to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound for several hours Friday after clashes erupted with Palestinian worshippers following midday prayers at the flashpoint site.
For around four hours all entry into and out of the mosque, which is Islam’s third holiest site, was prevented by Israeli officers, an AFP photographer said, following clashes inside.
The compound was reopened in the early evening, with worshippers flooding in to pray, the photographer said.
Police said the clashes were sparked after Friday midday prayers as “rioters started to throw fireworks directly at police”.
“Police entered the Temple Mount compound and began evacuating the site. During dispersal of the rioters police arrested a number of suspects,” a statement said, using the Jewish name for the site.
The Waqf, the religious authority that governs the site, published videos showing police firing tear gas at Palestinians inside the mosque compound.
Police later surrounded the Al-Aqsa mosque, which shares the compound with the gold-topped Dome of the Rock, before entering they said to arrest “several dozen rioters who continued to blockade themselves” in the building.
Jordan, which is recognised as the custodian of religious sites in disputed Jerusalem, criticised the Israeli measures.
In a statement, a government spokesman condemned the “ongoing violations and provocations against the holy Al-Aqsa mosque, especially the Israeli police storming the mosque today and its aggression against the worshippers”.
The compound is one of the most fractious issues in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
The site is also holy to Jews, who believe it to be the location of the first and second temples of Judaism and refer to it as the Temple Mount.
An outer wall of the site is the Western Wall, the holiest site at which Jews are allowed to pray.
Ahmed Tibi, an Arab member of the Israeli parliament, accused Israeli officials of over reacting.
After the fireworks were thrown, he told AFP at the site, “it was calm, why did they close the gates?”
“There is nothing justifying closing them.”
The mosque is a rallying point for Palestinians and Muslims generally, who fear Israel is seeking to change the so-called status quo arrangement at the site.
Under that agreement, Jews can visit but only Muslims are allowed to visibly pray at the site.
In July 2017 tens of thousands of Palestinians prayed outside for weeks after Israel installed new metal detectors following an attack at al-Aqsa, eventually forcing a government u-turn.
Palestinians say a visit to the site by right wing Israeli politician Ariel Sharon sparked the second intifada, or uprising, in 2000, though Israel disputes this.
Fresh Palestinian protests were taking place along the Gaza-Israel border Friday evening, a week after an Israeli soldier was shot dead there.
One Palestinian was shot dead near Khan Yunis in southern Gaza, the health ministry in Gaza said.