Temple Mount shuttered after firebomb thrown at police post

Cop suffers smoke inhalation; Abbas warns of ‘serious repercussions’ amid soaring tensions over access to shuttered mosque

Police sealed off the Temple Mount holy site in Jerusalem on Tuesday after a firebomb was thrown at officers, leading to several arrests and low-level clashes.

The incident came amid already high tensions at the site and threatened to set the region alight as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warned of “serious repercussions.”

One officer was treated for mild smoke inhalation after the firebomb attack on a police post situated on the edge of the sensitive holy site, according to police.

The Molotov cocktail set fire to a motorized cart used by police on the Temple Mount.

Police quickly deployed across the hilltop compound, scuffling with worshipers in the area as they searched for the assailants. In one video, police were seen wrestling a woman to the ground.

A fire rages in a police post on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount after a Molotov cocktail was thrown at it on March 12, 2019. (Ir Amim)

Ten suspects were arrested and an investigation into the incident was ongoing, police said.

Palestinian Muslim worshipers pray in front of a barrier after Israeli border police closed one of the entrances of the Temple Mount compound in the Old City of Jerusalem on March 12, 2019. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

Following the attack, police closed the entrances to the volatile holy site and removed all those already on the Temple Mount, which has seen several confrontations between Israeli security forces and Muslim worshipers in recent weeks.

Police said they found flammable materials, firecrackers and Molotov cocktails during a search of the Temple Mount after it was closed.

The Damascus Gate entrance of the Old City of Jerusalem was also closed and police were dispatched throughout the Old City and East Jerusalem “to prevent and respond to any attempt to disturb public order in response to the serious incident,” police said in a statement.

There were no reports of violence in the wake of the closure, which was condemned by Palestinian leaders and others.

Abbas denounced the “dangerous Israeli escalation” and warned of “serious repercussions.”

Israeli border police secure one of the entrances of the Temple Mount compound in the Old City of Jerusalem after closing the access to the site on March 12, 2019. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

His office said he was in communication with relevant parties, including Jordan, “to pressure the occupation’s government to halt this dangerous escalation,” and called on the international community to urgently intervene.

Israeli police arrest a Muslim worshiper after a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a police post on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount on March 12, 2019. (Ir Amim)

Muslim worshipers have repeatedly threatened to enter an area of the Temple Mount near the Gate of Mercy, which was closed by court order in 2003 over allegations that the group overseeing the site was tied to the Hamas terror group.

The longstanding closure of the area near the Gate of Mercy on the compound has ignited tensions between Palestinian worshipers and Israeli police in recent weeks. Worshipers have forced the area open and entered on several occasions.

High-level Israeli and Jordanian officials have been holding talks in the hope of defusing the situation. Last week, Israeli officials traveled to Jordan for meetings, and Jordanian officials have also visited Jerusalem according to  Israeli reports.

Palestinian Muslim worshipers attend Friday noon prayers at a disputed area near the Golden Gate in Temple Mound compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, on March 1, 2019. (AhmadGharbli/AFP)

The talks are ongoing and the sides have yet to come to an agreement, according to the Haaretz daily.

Jordan has offered that the site be closed for long-term renovations. While the Israelis agree, they insist it must first be closed without renovations taking place, as a statement of Israeli authority. This disagreement has reportedly stood in the way of a deal.

The area inside the Gate of Mercy was sealed off by Israeli authorities in 2003, and it has been kept closed to stop illegal construction work there by the Islamic Waqf, the organization that administer the Temple Mount. The actual Gate of Mercy, which is a fortified gateway in the retaining wall surrounding the Temple Mount, has been bricked up for nearly 500 years.

Israeli officials believe the work carried out by the Waqf, which refused to allow any Israeli observers, led to the destruction of antiquities from periods of Jewish presence in the area.

Palestinian demonstrators break open the locked entrance to the Gate of Mercy compound outside the Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, February 18, 2019. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Last month, the Waqf reopened the site and Palestinian worshipers began to use it as a mosque, despite Israeli attempts to keep the area sealed.

The Waqf has repeatedly challenged the closure, convening and staging prayer-protests in the area, which often erupted into clashes with police.

Adam Rasgon and agencies contributed to this report.

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