Police were on alert Sunday ahead of prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque for the last day of the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, amid reports that extremists had barricaded themselves in the compound, on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, in anticipation of clashes.
The flashpoint site has seen several altercations between Israeli police and Palestinians in recent weeks, sparking widespread unrest in and around the capital.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon instructed police to allow Muslim worshipers unfettered access to the mount on Sunday, while preventing the ascension of Jewish visitors, so as to head off any conflict.
Nevertheless, Jewish activists were planning to hold a prayer session outside one of the entrances to the Mount, and later attempt to break through and enter the compound, the Ynet news site reported.
The report said a group of several dozen men from the Muslim Mourabitoun group were spending the night upon the Mount with the intention of clashing with Jewish visitors should they attempt to enter the site.
The Mourabitoun were outlawed by Ya’alon along with their female counterparts, the Mourabitat, earlier this month after they were accused of attacking non-Muslim visitors to the Temple Mount and fomenting violent altercations with police.
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 said he is committed to maintaining the status quo at the site, which is holy to both Jews and Muslims.