JERUSALEM: Clashes erupted on Sunday between police and Palestinians at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the latest violence to shake Jerusalem’s flashpoint site holy to Muslims and Jews.
Police said they entered the compound in the morning after Palestinian demonstrators threw stones at visitors to the holy site, known to Muslims as Al-Haram Al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) and to Jews as the Temple Mount.
Once inside, police themselves came under stone attack and had to wade through oil that Palestinians had spilled in an an effort to make them slip and fall, said public radio.
Firing stun grenades to break up the protests, the police left the site after less than an hour and closed access to both visitors and the Muslim faithful, said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
Twelve demonstrators were arrested, he said.
Witnesses said that some 100 Palestinians remained inside the compound.
Kamal Khatib, a spokesman for the Israeli Arab Islamic Movement, which has been at the forefront of recent demonstrations at the compound, blamed police for the clashes.
‘The police always excuse their attacks by saying that the worshippers threw stones,’ he told AFP. ‘It is clear they just want to justify their crimes.’
He added that police were stopping busses filled with Muslim worshippers in northern Israel in a bid to prevent them from reaching Jerusalem.
Early Sunday, police had deployed extra troops after calls for demonstrations around the holy site that has been the scene of clashes over the past several months.
‘We reinforced patrols in the Old City to avoid any disturbances after calls among Palestinians and Israeli Arabs to come demonstrate in so-called defence of the Temple Mount,’ Rosenfeld told AFP.
The Palestinian calls for demonstrations came amid rumours that rightwing Jewish activists were planning to gather at the compound, the site of the holiest place in Judaism and third-holiest in Islam, radio reported.
The rumours circulated after an extreme rightwing Jewish group, the Organisation for the Defence of Human Rights on the Temple Mount, called on Jews to gather at the mosque compound as well as the adjacent Western Wall, Judaism’s top pilgrimage site.
Sunday’s incidents marked the latest violence to shake the holy site, where any perceived change in the status quo has often led to outbreaks of deadly clashes.