Jerusalem police late Saturday night arrested 26 right-wing activists who had holed themselves up in an east Jerusalem compound venerated by both Jews and Muslims in protest over a planned visit there by Pope Francis.
Police say the men were arrested at the Mount Zion building, where Jews believe the Biblical King David was buried, after they threw rocks and bottles at them.
All told, some 150 activists participated in the protest. Several police were lightly injured.
The compound, venerated by Christians as the place where Jesus held his Last Supper, has inspired passions and ignited tensions, casting a pall over Francis’s scheduled visit there on Sunday.
On Thursday night, over 1,000 Jews gathered on Mount Zion for a concert and prayer rally intended to send a message that the site would remain under Jewish control.
Sitting atop a ridge adjacent to the Old City, the site is one of several religiously freighted locations in the city treading a delicate balance governed by an obligation to maintain a “status quo” set during Ottoman rule.
The building, which also housed a mosque, is also part of a decades-old property dispute between Israel and the Vatican.
Despite official assurances that Israel does not intend to hand the site over to the Vatican’s sovereignty, the idea that Jerusalem will transfer control of the site has gained traction in some religious circles.
Israel says it is in discussions with the Vatican only over the rights of the Catholic church to hold regular masses there, something currently prohibited by the status quo.
A planned mass at the site by Francis has raised hackles among some Orthodox Jews. A number of figures from the Jewish far right appeared at the rally calling for the pope to skip visiting Israel.
On Friday, two Jerusalem residents were arrested for hanging up posters that police say defamed Pope Francis and Christianity.
According to police, dozens more such placards were found in their possession, Israel Radio reported.
Earlier this week, the police issued restraining orders to several right-wing activists, banning them from entering parts of Jerusalem during Pope Francis’s visit to the region in the coming days.
“The police and Shin Bet (security service) have taken out restraining orders against several right-wing activists, who according to information from Shin Bet are planning to commit provocative acts during the pope’s visit,” a police spokesman told AFP.
AFP contributed to this report.
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