Clashes, tensions flare at sacred site in Jerusalem
JERUSALEM — Violence returned Thursday to a sacred site in Jerusalem as Palestinians gathering for prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound clashed with Israeli police nearly two weeks after a deadly attack there.
Earlier in the day, Palestinians had celebrated as Israel rolled back security measures and thousands of worshippers heeded a call by Muslim authorities to assemble for prayers at the mosque for the first time in 11 days.
But as crowds pushed at one of the gates to the compound in the Old City, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse them, with dozens reported wounded.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered police reinforcements in Jerusalem following the latest unrest, and police were weighing limiting entry of younger men in anticipation of mass protests for Friday prayers.
Israeli troops in the West Bank were put on high alert and prepared for more violence Friday, a military official said.
Tensions have been running high at the site sacred to both Muslims and Jews since three Israeli Arab men killed two police officers on July 14, prompting Israel to install metal detectors and other security devices.
Israel said the measures were needed to prevent more attacks. Palestinians claimed Israel was trying to expand its control over the site, which Israel denied.
The security measures outraged Muslims and triggered protests, and low-level clashes have continued in and around Jerusalem since then, highlighting the deep distrust between Israel and the Palestinians over the holy site.
In protest, Palestinians have prayed in Jerusalem’s streets outside the shrine since the July 14 attack. Israel removed the devices Thursday and the crisis appeared to be easing as Muslim leaders told the faithful to return to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Droves of Palestinians entered for afternoon prayers. A handful scaled the roof the mosque and planted Palestinian flags above the entrance. Police later removed them.
Just before worship began, police shot tear gas and rubber bullets at the massing crowd. The Red Crescent said tensions rose as Israeli troops closed one of the gates to the compound as large numbers of worshippers tried to enter, and that 96 people were wounded in the melee. Police said officers were struck by stones and responded with riot dispersal methods, and a spokesperson said at least two officers were wounded.
More clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces erupted after nightfall, with the Red Crescent saying at least eight people were hurt.
Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas both issued calls earlier this week for mass protests on Friday.