AFP – Dozens of people were wounded on Sunday in clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians in and around the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, a flashpoint site holy to Muslims and Jews.
Palestinians hurled rocks from the rooftops of the Old City and set alight piles of rubbish, filling the narrow, centuries-old alleys with smoke as police manned barricades and used stun grenades to disperse the crowds.
A 20-year-old Palestinian woman also stabbed an Israeli border guard in the stomach at a main checkpoint north of Jerusalem, security officials said.
It was not clear whether this was linked to the Al-Aqsa clashes, which had mostly ended by late afternoon when the stabbing took place.
Earlier police twice entered the compound itself 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.
The first time police entered they came under attack from stone-throwing youths and had to negotiate oil that Palestinians had spilled in an effort to make them slip and fall, public radio reported.
“More than one hundred youths are still inside the mosque,” Jerusalem police chief Dudi Cohen told reporters. “At this stage, we have no intention of entering the mosque and we call on all those inside to leave.”
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said 18 people were arrested for attacking police and that Hatem Abdel Qader, the former Jerusalem affairs minister in the Palestinian Authority, was detained for “incitement to violence.”
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 violence.
“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.”
Twenty-four Palestinians were wounded in the clashes, according to the Red Crescent emergency service. On the Israeli side nine police officers were injured and three were taken to the hospital, Rosenfeld said.
The office of Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas warned of “dangerous consequences” and called on Israel to “halt all provocative acts.”
“Jerusalem is a red line that cannot be crossed,” his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina told AFP.
The Islamist Hamas movement ruling the Gaza Strip blamed Israel for “this dangerous aggression, which violates every Muslim on the face of the earth.”
Jordan, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, demanded that Israeli police stop entering the compound and warned that “dangerous provocations” by the Jewish state threaten Middle East peace efforts.
The Saudi-based Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) condemned the police action as a “violation of all Muslim sanctuaries,” and called an extraordinary meeting for November 1 in Jeddah of its executive committee.
Police deployed extra forces early on Sunday after calls for demonstrations around the holy site that has been the scene of clashes for several months.
The Palestinian calls for protests came amid rumours that right wing Jewish activists were planning to gather at the compound, site of the holiest place in Judaism and third-holiest in Islam, radio reports said.
The rumours began after an extreme right Jewish group, the Organisation for the Defence of Human Rights on the Temple Mount, urged Jews to gather at the mosque compound and the adjacent Western Wall, Judaism’s top pilgrimage site.
Sunday’s violence was the latest to rock the holy site, where perceived changes in the status quo have often sparked deadly clashes.
Two weeks of tensions over the compound exploded into violence on September 27, when Palestinians hurled rocks at visitors they suspected of being right wing Jewish extremists.
Police, who responded with stun grenades, said the group was made up of French tourists.
In September 2000, the second Palestinian uprising or intifada erupted after Ariel Sharon, a right wing politician who went on to become Israel’s prime minister, visited the site.