Police close Temple Mount to visitors

Move comes as thousands of Jewish worshipers set to descend on Western Wall for holiday prayers

Police closed the Temple Mount to visitors and closed off streets around the Old City to vehicular traffic Sunday as thousands of Jewish worshipers descended on the Western Wall for holiday prayers.

The closure comes on the heels of clashes between police and masked rioters at the Temple Mount 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, ramping up tensions on the contested site.

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.

Wednesday saw violent clashes in and around the Temple Mount compound ahead of the Sukkot holiday.

Five policemen were lightly injured during fighting with protesters, who hurled stones, Molotov cocktails and shot fireworks at Israeli forces.

Several protesters holed themselves up in the al-Aqsa Mosque on the site after being chased by police, who said flammable material was sprayed at them and a fire was started.

Palestinian sources said dozens of Palestinians were injured in the clashes.

The fighting came 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.

Israeli media reported several instances of rock throwing at the Jerusalem light rail on Saturday night.

Police have cracked down on the protests, arresting suspected rioters in overnight sweeps and bolstering their presence in flashpoint areas.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered police to up patrols in East Jerusalem Tuesday, saying he would not allow riots to become the norm, Israel Radio reported.

The Temple Mount, which holds the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque, is considered the third-holiest site in Islam and the holiest site for Jews as it was the location of the two ancient Jewish temples.

In September, an addition to the Mughrabi Bridge meant to boost the flow of non-Muslim visitors to the Temple Mount was dismantled after it was deemed “illegal” by Netanyahu. The move, which was praised by Jordan and the Islamic authorities of the site, was seen by some as an attempt to decrease tensions.

AP contributed to this report.

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