Israeli police stormed a sensitive Jerusalem holy site to disperse a violent protest on Tuesday morning, hours before parliament debated an MK’s motion to extend control over it.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said about 20 masked Palestinian youths hurled stones and firecrackers at troops from the top of the Temple Mount. Police then entered the compound and arrested three people. Two officers were slightly wounded.
The site, known to Muslims as the al-Aqsa Mosque or Noble Sanctuary, often sees clashes erupt after Muslims conclude their prayers.
Jews typically pray below at the Western Wall but tensions have grown lately with an increased number of Jews arriving to pray at the Temple Mount as well.
Revered as Islam’s third holiest spot, the site’s iconic gold-topped Dome of the Rock enshrines the rock where Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven. Jews believe the rock may be where the holiest part of the two ancient temples stood about 2,000 years ago – and where religious Jews pray a third temple will one day be built.
The site is so holy that Jews have traditionally refrained from praying on the hilltop, but attitudes among some Orthodox Jews have been evolving and there has been growing demand to allow Jews to pray there freely as well.
Nationalist MK Moshe Feiglin of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, who has been leading the charge, initiated the parliamentary discussion. No vote was taken and no decision made.
Mr Netanyahu’s office strongly rejects Mr Feiglin’s initiative believing any change to the status quo could spark violence and unsettle the talks.
Mickey Levy, Israel’s deputy finance minister and a former commander of the Jerusalem District Police, called the site “a keg of dynamite” and urged restraint.
Zehava Galon, head of the Meretz Party, said yesterday’s riot was a direct result of Mr Feiglin’s “religious provocation”. She said her party recognised the right to free worship at holy sites, but not every right had to be realised and at this time doing so would merely inflame the region.
Azzam Khatib, director general of the Waqf, Jordan’s Islamic authority that currently manages religious affairs at site, said the clash followed rumours that Jewish extremists were planning to enter the compound and raise the Israeli flag. He said the entire compound was Muslim and they would not allow anyone to change that situation.
“I hope they have some rational people in the government to stop them from provoking us,” he said.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’ office also issued a statement condemning what it called “continuous Israeli incursions” into the site.
“Such assaults are not only a danger to holy places but also creates an atmosphere that will increase violence and hatred and convert the conflict into a dangerous religious conflict,” it said.