Israeli police prevent Muslim worshipers from entering the holy site

JERUSALEM — Israeli police blocked Muslim worshipers from entering the Aqsa Mosque compound for four hours on Sunday morning to prevent ...

JERUSALEM — Israeli police blocked Muslim worshipers from entering the Aqsa Mosque compound for four hours on Sunday morning to prevent contact between Muslims and Jews at the site. The movement led to brief clashes in nearby streets, two days after a more intense fight by violence broke out to the sacred complex.

Nine Palestinians were arrested, according to police. At least 17 were injured, five of them by rubber-tipped bullets fired by police, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, an emergency medical group.

These events have heightened tensions in Jerusalem, which have risen sharply in recent weeks after a exceptionally deadly wave of Arab attacks in Israel killed 14 people, and after a the ensuing Israeli crackdown in the occupied West Bank killed at least 15.

Tensions are expected to rise further in the coming days due to the rare convergence between Ramadan and Passoverwhich began on Friday and is attracting more followers of Islam and Judaism to the Aqsa compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount.

Sunday’s violence began after police, seeking to prevent contact between Muslims and Jews who had entered the compound, confined Muslims already inside to small parts of the site. They beat some of them with truncheons and barred access to Muslims who were still outside the site.

Police then provided Jewish worshipers with an armed escort as they marched around the perimeter of the compound, which was the site of an ancient temple considered Judaism’s holiest site. Tourists and some journalists were also allowed to enter, but were restricted to a more limited area.

Previously, Palestinians had gathered near the entrance used by non-Muslims to enter the site, blocking part of the road usually used by Jews to pray quietly near where the ancient jewish temple. Photographs published by Palestinian media said stones had been stored elsewhere on the road.

Clashes then broke out in the side streets around the mosque compound, as police used batons and stun grenades to push back Muslims trying to enter. The Palestinians shouted: “With our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for Al Aqsa. A New York Times reporter saw several policemen using batons to beat a group of chanting Palestinians who had stopped outside the mosque compound.

Police also disabled the mosque’s loudspeakers after Palestinians tried to use the audio system to call people to the site, said Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani, a senior religious official at the mosque.

Sheikh Omar described the police actions as “a siege”. In a statement, police said their aim was to preserve freedom of worship for all religions and that they only acted against those who “defile and desecrate holy places and attempt to harm innocent civilians. and the security forces”.

Other Palestinians locked themselves in the largest mosque in the compound, as police patrolled outside. This standoff ended late in the morning, after the police began to let Muslims into the compound and withdrew to allow Palestinians inside the mosque itself to leave. They came out cheering, some shooting fireworks and one carrying a green flag associated with Hamas, the Islamist militant group that rules the Gaza Strip.

Tensions are often high in Jerusalem’s Old City complex, which is sacred to both Islam and Judaism. But they are particularly tense at the moment due to the rare overlap between Ramadan, Passover and Easter, the first since 1991.

Muslims view efforts by some Jewish activists to pray stealthily at the site as a provocation because they violate longstanding Israeli policy that allows Jews to visit, but not to pray. They also fear that Jewish prayer could give impetus to campaigns by small extremist groups to build a new Jewish temple on the site.

Many Muslims have also been angered by recent efforts by extremist Jews to enter the compound with young goats to make a Passover sacrifice. Police said last week they had arrested activists planning such a sacrifice, and officers on Friday intercepted a Jew carrying a goat near the compound, confiscating the animal.

While some rabbis support Jews praying on the Temple Mount, one of Israel’s chief rabbis, David Lau, issued a statement last week saying that Jews were forbidden from setting foot there. a position that many leading rabbis have taken since 1967, when Israel captured the site from Jordan. Many Jews believe that upon entering the site, they risk stepping on some of the most sacred areas of the ancient Jewish temple.

Sunday’s clashes followed a more intense incident on Friday, when Israeli riot police, firing rubber bullets and stun grenades, stormed the compound’s main mosque to arrest hundreds of Palestinians, many of whom were throwing rocks at them. More than 150 people were injured.

Similar clashes at the mosque last year helped spark an 11-day war between Israel and militants in Gaza led by Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the strip.

This year, however, Israel and Hamas have signaled that they are not looking for an escalation. Khaled Meshaal, a senior Hamas official, said on Saturday that both sides had made it clear through Qatari officials that they did not want another conflagration.

But Islamic Jihad, another militant group in Gaza, said on Sunday that recent tensions at the mosque would lead to an “all-out confrontation”.

Myra Noveck contributed reporting from Jerusalem, and Iyad Abuheweila of Gaza City.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Israeli police prevent Muslim worshipers from entering the holy site
Israeli police prevent Muslim worshipers from entering the holy site
Newsrust - US Top News
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