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Jerusalem clashes mar eve of Rosh Hashana
Israeli police raid Al-Aqsa Mosque to clear stone throwers
Israeli police stormed the AlAqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on Sunday morning to clear Muslim stone throwers who had taken refuge in the compound amid allegations they planned to disrupt Jewish worshipers on the eve of the Jewish new year.
Police used tear gas and stun grenades as they entered the area to clear the Arab protesters. Masked men fled into the mosque and threw dozens of rocks, stone blocks and firecrackers at the Israeli personnel, the Israeli news site Ynet News reported.
Police entered the mosque compound at about 7 a.m. after receiving reports that protesters were prepared to disrupt visits to the area by Jewish worshipers, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said, according to the Associated Press.
Al-Aqsa sits on the former site of the Jewish Temple in a location known to Jews as the Temple Mount. The outer wall of the temple compound is the Jewish holy site known as the Western Wall. The mosque compound overlooks the open pavilion at the Western Wall, where Jews gather for prayers. The Jewish new year, Rosh Hashana, began Sunday at sundown.
Radwan Amr, an official at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, said 32 of the shrine’s windows were damaged or destroyed, a door was shattered and the carpet burned in 12 places.
Israeli police Maj. Gen. Moshe Edri said the demonstrators intended to disrupt Rosh Hashana festivities, and his officers’ goal is “to allow the freedom of worship for all religions in Jerusalem.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned “the Israeli attack,” his office said.
The violence erupted a day after police found several pipe bombs in an apartment in East Jerusalem.
The latest violence stems from a crackdown by the Israeli government on Muslim protesters. The Arab-Israeli activists say they are guarding against far right Jewish groups, such as the Temple Mount Movement, whose prime goal is “liberating the Temple Mount” from Muslim “occupation.”
On Wednesday, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon banned two Arab-Israeli groups, Murabitat and Murabitun, that had formed to protest and disrupt Jewish religious groups that visit and sometimes pray at the Muslim holy site. Yaalon said the move was necessary to ensure “state security.”
Since Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967, Jewish worshipers have been allowed to visit — but not pray — at Al-Aqsa. Some Israeli politicians, such as Miri Regev, a member of the Knesset, have advocated allowing Jewish prayer at the site. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has opposed that.