Police arrested several Palestinian youths who barricaded themselves inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque following prayers there late Thursday night, as tensions surrounding the Temple Mount persisted after nearly two weeks of bloody clashes over security measures at the site.
The confrontation came following a day of fighting between police and Muslim worshipers at the holy site, after Muslim leaders said they would resume praying at the site as Israel rolled back security measures there, seemingly ending a high-stakes standoff over control of the sacred compound.
However, tensions remain high ahead of prayers Friday, with Israeli officials beefing up police and military presence in Jerusalem and the West Bank amid fears of clashes amid lingering Muslim anger over the episode.
According to police, they were forced to remove several dozen youths who had refused orders from both Israeli authorities and the Islamic Waqf that administers the site to leave the mosque following prayers.
“Several attempts were made through the Waqf to call on the youths to leave the mosque, but since they were not answered, a number of additional attempts were made by police to get the youths to listen to police orders and leave the mosque. At that point, the youths locked the doors of the mosque and refused to leave,” police said in a statement.
— Muntaser Alrefai (@muntaser_buz) July 27, 2017
Police said they arrested several youths who clashed with police after they stormed the mosque to pull them out.
The Palestinian Ma’an news agency reported that more than 100 Palestinians were arrested and 15 people were injured.
The confrontation came hours after violent clashes erupted between Palestinians and Israeli security forces at the compound, as Muslim worshipers returned to the site en masse after a nearly two week absence.
Israel on Thursday morning rolled back all security measures it had placed at entrances to the holy site since a July 14 terror attack in which assailants used guns smuggled onto the Temple Mount to kill two policemen guarding nearby. Most Muslims had refused to enter the site until metal detectors, cameras, railings and other measures were removed, holding daily protest prayers outside the compound, many of which led to intense clashes.
Police said worshipers began hurling rocks at security forces upon their reentry to the compound.
Some stones fell at the Western Wall plaza below, causing no injuries, a police spokesperson said.
A police officer was lightly injured after a rock was thrown at his head, police said.
Channel 2 reported that 10 police officers were injured in the ensuing clashes.
— Satar (@Satar_Gaza) July 27, 2017
Some 115 Palestinians were treated for injuries both inside the compound and in the surrounding area, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent. A spokesperson said the injuries were mainly caused by rubber bullets, burns and bruises. Fifteen people were hospitalized, it said.
Following the clashes, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a beefed up police and border guard presence in Jerusalem for Friday, a week after protests on the Muslim holy day led to widespread clashes, with five Palestinians killed. Late Friday night, a Palestinian terrorist stabbed to death three members of the Salomon family at their Shabbat eve meal.
In addition, Israeli troops in the West Bank were put on high alert and prepared for more violence Friday, a military official said.
Police said their decision to pull the Palestinians out the mosque was influenced by a desire to keep a lid on possible Friday tensions surrounding the flashpoint holy site.
“The police will continue to act to guard public order and the status quo on the Temple Mount and will act harshly against anyone who tries to incite or and disturb public order and peace,” police said in a statement.
Earlier on Thursday, Jerusalem police chief Yoram Halevi warned that further violence over access to the holy site would not be tolerated and threatened that “there will be casualties” if protesters attempt to disrupt the fragile peace.
While Israel maintained that the security measures that had been impose at the site were necessary to guarantee security in the wake of the shooting, demonstrators charged that the move was a violation of the status quo in place since Israel captured the site, Judaism’s most holy as the place of the biblical temples, in the 1967 Six Day War.
Under the arrangement, Israel is responsible for security at the entrance’s to the Temple Mount, while the Jordanian-administered Waqf manages the holy site, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
Jews are allowed to visit the Temple Mount but not to pray there.
AP contributed to this report.