Israeli police clashed with dozens of Arab stone throwers on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount as thousands of Christian worshipers descended on the Old City for Easter Sunday.
At least 16 rock-throwers were arrested, the Israel Police said, and two Border Police officers were lightly injured during the incident, which came after Israeli authorities opened the site, holy to both Judaism and Islam, to tourists. According to Palestinian media, police stormed the al-Aqsa mosque and injured several Palestinians.
The police later decided to close the site to visitors and restrict Muslim prayer to Israeli ID holders over the age of 50.
Riots on the Temple Mount are not uncommon, and often accompany political tension or visits by Israeli right-wing activists.
Sunday’s renewed violence accompanied the rare coincidence of both Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Easter, which has drawn thousands of Christian faithful to Jerusalem’s Old City. The police dispatched large numbers of officers across the historic area of Jerusalem to help maintain security.
Five young Palestinians were also arrested at the site overnight after they attempted to scale the wall to gain access. The five were found in possession of tear gas, police said, prompting an official investigation. Two others were arrested in connection to rock-throwing on Friday, a police spokesperson said.
Azzam Khatib, director general of the Waqf, Jordan’s Islamic authority that manages religious affairs at site, said the incident followed rumors that Moshe Feiglin, a nationalist lawmaker and member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, planned on visiting the site.
Feiglin visited the Temple Mount Sunday morning and told Israel Radio that the compound appeared to be “conquered by Hamas and Islamic Jihad.” Last month, Feiglin initiated a parliament debate about Israel extending sovereignty over the site. No decision was made but it only added to tensions over the area.
On Thursday, authorities closed the Temple Mount to Jewish visitors and tourists as a precaution against a repeat of violent clashes at the site the day before.
The closure order came as tens of thousands of Jews gathered at the Western Wall plaza for the traditional priestly blessing ceremony that takes place during the Passover and Sukkot festivals. Following the ceremony, the Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbis were scheduled to publicly meet and greet those who arrived for the event.
On Wednesday, riots broke out on the Temple Mount compound, as Palestinians protested a visit to the holy site by Jewish pilgrims and tourists. Dozens of Palestinian protesters and an Israeli policeman were wounded during clashes, the second such incident in a week.
Israeli security officials told Channel 2 news last week that they would ultimately have to force their way into the al-Aqsa mosque, atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, because hundreds of young Palestinian men are now routinely stockpiling large quantities of rocks and slabs of stone to attack security forces.
Tensions have grown lately with an increased number of Jews arriving to pray on the Temple Mount. Israel permits Jews to ascend to the Temple Mount for visits, but they are barred from praying at the site. These visits often stoke rumors that Israel is preparing to take over the site.
Last Sunday, riot police were called in to quell a violent protest at the Temple Mount’s Mughrabi Gate, as the site opened to visitors in the morning.
Stuart Weiner, AP and AFP contributed to this report.