Jerusalem district police on Sunday evening imposed stringent age limits on Muslim access to the Temple Mount, in the wake of violence at the site earlier in the day. Effective immediately, only men over the age of 50 and women of all ages will be allowed to visit the Mount, which is home to the al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam, Israel’s Channel 10 television reported.
“The police are making a supreme effort to allow worshipers to express their faith,” the police said in a statement.
Police had restricted access to some Muslim worshipers following days of violence, but later eased the order after several days of calm. On Sunday, the Mount was open solely to Muslim worshipers, with Jewish visitors kept away in an attempt to maintain the calm. Some religious Jews traditionally ascend to the site, considered the holiest in Judaism, during the week-long Sukkot festival that began Sunday evening.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon had instructed police to allow Israeli Muslim worshipers unfettered access, while West Bank Palestinian men under 35 remained banned.
But dozens of masked Palestinians hurled rocks and firecrackers at Israeli police at the site on Sunday morning, as Muslims closed out the four-day Eid al-Adha holiday and Jews prepared for Sukkot. There were no reports of injuries, and officers used riot dispersal means to break up the riot.
The Temple Mount — Judaism holiest site as the location of the biblical temples, and the third holiest site in Islam as home to the al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock — has seen several altercations between Israeli police and Palestinians in recent weeks, sparking widespread unrest in and around the capital.
Jerusalem police on Sunday afternoon accused Arab Israeli lawmakers of failing to calm tensions at the site. In a statement on the violence, the police said, “The guards from the Waqf [Muslim authority that oversees the site] did not attempt to stop the youths rioting, and nor did the members of the Knesset from the Joint (Arab) List who arrived at the Temple Mount stop the desecration of the site by paint, stones and firecrackers.”
(Israel Police video of Sunday’s clashes)
The police singled out MK Hanin Zoabi, accusing her of inflaming the situation with misleading comments about the al-Aqsa Mosque. Zoabi, police said, had falsely claimed that the al-Aqsa Mosque would be shut to Muslims on Sunday and had called it “a declaration of war.”
But, the statement pointed out, “Today the Temple Mount was open to Muslim worshipers only, and this claim is entirely baseless and appears designed to inflame passions, leading to clashes and harm to security forces and innocent civilians.”
The police urged “the Arab leadership to show responsibility and call for order to be maintained.”
Police went on alert Sunday morning following reports that extremists had barricaded themselves in the al-Aqsa compound overnight, in anticipation of possible clashes.