As fresh clashes erupt, police close Temple Mount to tourists

Woman praying at Western Wall lightly injured by stone thrown from above; police respond, say situation ‘under control’

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Thousands of Muslims pray in front of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount during the holy month of Ramadan in Jerusalem's Old City, June 26, 2016. (Suliman Khader/Flash90)
Thousands of Muslims pray in front of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount during the holy month of Ramadan in Jerusalem's Old City, June 26, 2016. (Suliman Khader/Flash90)

Police on Tuesday announced that Jerusalem’s Temple Mount would be closed to tourists for three days and that extra forces would be deployed to prevent rioting at the religious site in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Palestinians threw rocks at Israeli police at the contested holy site Tuesday morning, and a stone struck a 73-year-old Jewish woman in the Western Wall plaza, which is overlooked by the mount. She suffered minor injuries and received medical treatment on site.

In response to the stone-throwing, police entered the compound to prevent further incidents, arresting 16 people for their involvement in the disturbances. A police spokesman said the situation was “under control.”

The closure of the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound, through Thursday came on the third day of clashes between security forces and Palestinian rioters. Authorities allowed tourists, including Jewish groups, to visit the area during the sensitive last 10 days of Ramadan.

“After assessing the situation this morning, the Jerusalem District Police decided that the Temple Mount will be closed today to visitors,” Jerusalem District Police spokesperson Luba Samri said in a statement.

“Likewise, it was decided that the mount will be closed to visitors also on Wednesday and Thursday. Police are ready with backup forces to maintain the quiet on the mount and to prevent rioting. Any disruption will be dealt with firmly.”

Muslim worshipers will continue to have access to the site, home to the third-holiest site in Islam, the Al-Aqsa Mosque. In Judaism, it is the holiest site and is venerated as the location of the First and Second Temples.

“The police are continuing ongoing dialogue with the local leadership and the Waqf, and demanding that they prevent any disruption in arrangements on the mount and preserve the peace,” Samri said.

Under agreements dating back to 1967, the Jordan-based Waqf administers the Temple Mount.

Of the 263 visitors to the Temple Mount on Monday, 33 of them were Jewish, according to police figures.

As visitors began to arrive at the site, “Muslim youths, some of them masked, began to throw at the forces stones they had gathered in advance and piled up inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” police said Monday, and noted that fireworks were also fired directly at security forces.

According to police, the rioters stockpiled stones and other objects, including firecrackers, inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque, “all of which was intended as a confrontation with police and security forces, to prevent them closing the doors and to disrupt the regular visits to the Temple Mount.”

Islamic officials have said that the recent trouble began when Israel allowed the visitors into the compound in breach of a tradition which only allows Muslim worshipers to enter during the last 10 days of Ramadan, which are now in progress.

The 10 days, which began on Sunday, are the most solemn for Muslims and the period attracts the highest number of worshipers to the site.

Clashes on the sensitive holy site in the past have sparked wider Palestinian violence in Jerusalem and beyond.

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