Muslim worshippers and Israeli police clashed Sunday, August 11, at a major Jerusalem holy site during prayers marking the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha.
Palestinian medics said at least 14 people were wounded, one seriously, in the skirmishes with police at the site, which Muslims refer to as the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and Jews refer to as the Temple Mount. Police said at least four officers were wounded. Witnesses said at least two people were arrested.
Tens of thousands of Muslims had flocked to the site in Jerusalem’s eastern Old City early Sunday for holiday prayers, police said. Sunday is also the Tisha B’Av, the Jewish day of mourning for the destruction of the two Biblical temples which stood at the site in antiquity.
The site is the holiest for Jews and the third holiest for Muslims, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, and has long been a flashpoint at the epicenter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Large numbers of Palestinians had gathered at the gates of the compound early Sunday after rumors circulated that police would allow Jewish visitors to enter the site. The protesters chanted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) and threw stones at police, who then charged into the compound while firing tear gas, stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets.
Rumours had swirled that some Jewish visitors would be allowed to enter to mark the day of mourning for the destruction of the two Jewish temples that stood there in antiquity.
Israeli authorities can decide to bar entry to Jewish visitors on Muslim holidays if they feel it will stoke tensions. Police had initially prohibited them from entering the complex, but later reversed the decision after the clashes broke out.
Jewish visitors streamed through the gate under close police escort, triggering further skirmishes,The Jewish visitors left the compound shortly after, according to the Associated Press.
Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran Palestinian politician, accused Israel of provoking religious and political tension.
“The storming of al-Aqsa mosque compound by Israeli occupation forces this Eid morning is an act of recklessness and aggression,” she said in a statement.
The contested complex in central Jerusalem is the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest for Islam after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
For Muslims, the 37-acre esplanade is home to Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Islamic Dome of the Rock shrine. For Jews, its status as their religion’s holiest site is tied to its history as the site of First and Second Temples.
Conflicts over the area have triggered confrontations for centuries.
Nowadays Israel provides security for the compound, while neighboring Jordan manages the ceremonial and religious aspects of the complex.
Jordan issued a statement condemning what it described as “blatant Israeli violations” against Al-Aqsa mosque and said it had sent a formal complaint to Israel.
“The Israeli government bears full responsibility for the resulting violence and high tension,” said Sufian al-Qudah, a spokesman for the Jordanian Foreign Ministry.
Jewish visitors are not permitted to pray at the site under a longstanding arrangement between Israel and Muslim authorities. Jewish tradition also maintains that Jews should not enter the site and Jews pray instead outside at the Western or Wailing Wall.
In recent years, however, Israeli religious nationalists have encouraged Jews to pray inside the site, challenging the delicate status quo.
Palestinians view this as a provocation and are concerned that Jews mean to seize control or partition the complex. The Israeli government has repeatedly said it has no intention of changing the current arrangement.