Fearing repeat of riots, police bar non-Muslims from Temple Mount

Holy site shuttered to Jews and tourists day after violent clashes rock compound; move comes as thousands gather for priestly blessing

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

The Western Wall plaza with the Temple Mount in the background, as thousands of visitors arrive in the Old City of Jerusalem during the Jewish holiday of Passover, April 16, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)
The Western Wall plaza with the Temple Mount in the background, as thousands of visitors arrive in the Old City of Jerusalem during the Jewish holiday of Passover, April 16, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)

Police closed the Temple Mount to Jewish visitors and tourists on Thursday as a precaution against a repeat of violent clashes at the site the day before.

The move was made even though there were no disturbances during the morning, Israel Radio reported.

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.

Police arrested six Palestinians overnight in connection with the riots.

Police said they responded with stun grenades after Palestinians threw “stones and firecrackers” when the walled compound’s gates were opened. A small number of Jewish visitors had toured the site before the violence began.

Riots on the Temple Mount are not uncommon, and often accompany political tension or visits by Israeli right-wing activists.

Israeli security officials told Channel 2 news Wednesday 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 there to attack security forces.

Tensions have grown lately with an increased number of Jews arriving to pray on the Temple Mount as well. 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.

Sheikh Azzam Tamimi, head of the Waqf, the Muslim trust that administers the site, said worshipers had barricaded themselves inside the al-Aqsa mosque “to defend” the site from Jewish groups. Israeli TV stations showed footage of police running across the compound in riot gear with piles of stones strewn on the ground. The entrance to the mosque was barricaded with furniture, as protesters inside threw objects at police. Tamimi said 30 people suffered from tear-gas inhalation or had been struck by rubber-coated bullets. None of the injuries appeared to be serious.

However, the Israeli security officials said young Palestinian men were being allowed to hide out in the mosque by the authorities from the Waqf, and that they used the holy place as a stronghold for what have now become routine attacks on Israeli security forces.

Jordan on Wednesday urged the UN Security Council to end Israeli “escalation” at the compound. “Legal, humanitarian and ethical duties of the UN Security Council and the international community require that they stop Israeli escalation and violations committed by Jewish radicals at al-Aqsa,” Information Minister Mohammad Momani told the state-run Petra news agency. “Such actions as well as Israel’s insistence on supporting radical groups provoke Muslims around the world, create more instability in the region and violate international laws.”

On 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.

Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.

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