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Netanyahu: Palestinian rioters fueling Temple Mount unrest

PM’s statement comes hours after police clash with dozens of violent protesters at Al-Aqsa mosque

An Israeli policeman stands guard on the top of a building in front of the dome of the Rock in East Jerusalem on July 4, 2014 (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
An Israeli policeman stands guard on the top of a building in front of the dome of the Rock in East Jerusalem on July 4, 2014 (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday blamed “Palestinian extremists” for ongoing clashes at Jerusalem’s volatile Al-Aqsa mosque compound, hours after police surrounded dozens of rioters holed up at the hotly contested holy site. The protesters were demonstrating against Orthodox Jews entering the esplanade at the site, which is considered the third-holiest site in Islam and the holiest for Jews, as it was the location of two ancient Jewish temples.

“Israel is committed to maintaining the status quo exactly as it’s been for many decades,” Netanyahu said during a meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

“What we’re seeing is Palestinian extremists who are instigating violence through incitement.”

Earlier in the day Ban said he was “deeply concerned by repeated provocations at the holy sites in Jerusalem,” which “inflame tensions and must stop.”

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a joint news conference in Jerusalem on October 13, 2012. (Photo credit: Emil Salman/POOL/Flash90)
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a joint news conference in Jerusalem on October 13, 2012. (Photo credit: Emil Salman/POOL/Flash90)

The Al-Aqsa mosque was surrounded early Monday by Israeli police forces, who entered the plaza atop the Temple Mount before 7 a.m. after receiving information that said Palestinian activists had gathered stones and set barbed wire obstacles in preparation for planned attacks against Jewish visitors to the site.

Upon entering the site, police were met with rocks, firebombs and fireworks, which were hurled at them by the protesters, Israel Radio reported. The rioters were then pushed back into the mosque.

Police removed multiple obstacles at the site, including stretches of barbed wire, and it was finally opened to non-Muslim visitors at 7:30 a.m.

On Sunday, the Temple Mount was closed to Jews, and streets were closed off around the Old City to vehicular traffic, as tens of thousands of Jewish worshipers gathered at the Western Wall for holiday prayers.

Israeli Border Police guard at the entrance to the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, on Monday, October 13, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Israeli Border Police guard at the entrance to the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, on Monday, October 13, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

At the same time, several protesters holed themselves up in the Al-Aqsa Mosque after being chased by police. Police said flammable material was sprayed at several officers and that as a result, a fire broke out at the site.

Palestinian sources said dozens of Palestinians were injured in the Sunday clashes, while police reported five policemen were lightly injured.

The Sunday closure came on the heels of clashes between police and masked rioters at the Temple Mount last Wednesday morning before the start of the weeklong Jewish holiday of Sukkot. Many Jews have the custom of visiting the Temple Mount on holiday eves.

The Mughrabi Gate, the lone entrance for non-Muslims to enter the compound, has been the site of frequent clashes between Israeli security forces and Muslim worshipers.

The clashes come amid an uptick in inter-ethnic violence in Jerusalem over the past several months, with incidents of East Jerusalem rioters hurling stones and Molotov cocktails and using fireworks as a weapon.

AFP contributed to this report.

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