The Jerusalem district police on Sunday afternoon accused Arab Israeli lawmakers of failing to calm tensions on Temple Mount, where police clashed with young Palestinian protesters earlier in the day.
Palestinians at the site hurled rocks and firecrackers at Israeli police Sunday morning, as Muslims closed out the four-day Eid al-Adha holiday and Jews prepared to begin the week-long festival of Sukkot. Some religious Jews traditionally ascend to the site, considered the holiest in Judaism, during Sukkot. There were no reports of injuries at the flashpoint site.
Police used riot dispersal means to break up the riot by dozens of masked Palestinians, according to Army Radio. The police said they had the rioting under control shortly after.
In a statement on the violence, the police said, “The guards from the Waqf [Muslim authority that oversees the site] did not attempt to stop the youths rioting, and nor did the members of the Knesset from the Joint (Arab) List who arrived at the Temple Mount stop the desecration of the site by paint, stones and firecrackers.”
(Israel Police video of Sunday’s clashes)
The police also singled out MK Hanin Zoabi, accusing her of inflaming the situation with misleading comments about the al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits atop the Mount, as is one of the holiest sites in Islam.
“The puzzling comment by MK Hanin Zoabi, as published in the media, claimed that ‘the closure of the gates of the al-Aqsa Mosque to Muslims is a dangerous step, and perhaps even unprecedented on a holiday. This is the first time that a place sacred to Muslims has been closed. It is a policy that is a declaration of war,'” the police said.
But, the statement pointed out, “Today the Temple Mount was open to Muslim worshipers only, and this claim is entirely baseless and appears designed to inflame passions, leading to clashes and harm to security forces and innocent civilians.”
The police also urged “the Arab leadership to show responsibility and call for order to be maintained.”
Police went on alert Sunday morning following reports that extremists had barricaded themselves in the compound overnight, in anticipation of possible clashes.
The compound, the third holiest in Islam and home to the al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, has seen several altercations between Israeli police and Palestinians in recent weeks, sparking widespread unrest in and around the capital.
Police had restricted access to some Muslim worshipers in the wake of the violence, but later eased the order after several days of calm at the holy site.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon instructed police to allow Israeli Muslim worshipers unfettered access to the mount on Sunday, while West Bank Palestinian men under 35 remained banned. Access for Jewish visitors was also forbidden in order to head off any conflict.
Recent clashes at the site were triggered by a police raid at the mosque in the run-up to the Jewish new year festival of Rosh Hashanah that turned up pipe bombs, stockpiles of rocks and firecrackers as well as a barricade at an entrance to the al-Aqsa Mosque.
Muslims have expressed anger over visits by Jews to the site and fear rules governing the compound will be changed. Under a five-decade-old status quo — established by Israel after it conquered the site in the 1967 Six Day War — Jews are allowed to visit the Temple Mount, but not to pray there.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said he is committed to maintaining the status quo at the site, which is holy to both Jews and Muslims.