The Hamas terror group called on Palestinians to protest Israel’s closure of the Temple Mount compound and others urged international action against the move Tuesday, amid concern over increasing tensions at the sensitive holy site.
Police said they ordered the Jerusalem compound closed after a firebomb was thrown by a Palestinian at a police post there Tuesday afternoon.
In a statement, Hamas urged a mass march to the site to “defy the ‘Israeli’ occupation’s decision to close it and impose the will of the worshipers to enter and exit the mosque when they want.”
The UN envoy for the Middle East said he was following developments at the Temple Mount “with concern.”
“Places of worship are for prayer, not for provocations and violence. Restraint must be shown to avoid inflaming an already tense situation,” he wrote on Twitter.
Tuesday’s incident came amid already high tensions at the Temple Mount and threatened to set the region alight.
Police said 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, while 10 suspects were arrested.
But Bassem Abu Labda, an official from the Waqf Islamic trust which administers the site, told The Times of Israel that mosque authorities “did not see any Molotov cocktail thrown at the police. We are against all acts of violence and we condemn Israel’s actions in the Al-Aqsa Mosque today. Israel must reopen the mosque immediately.”
A spokesperson for the Waqf claimed Israeli police had orchestrated the attack and said 10 worshipers had been injured in ensuing scuffles, Turkish news agency Anadolu reported.
Jordan’s Religious Affairs Minister Abdel Nasser Abu al-Basal, who oversees the Waqf, said closing the site was “a major violation of freedom of religion and is unacceptable. The occupation is attempting to stoke religious conflict.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called for “the whole world to react to Israel’s brazen attacks on our sacred lands,” according to Turkey’s Anadolu news agency.
He also claimed Israel’s “increasing aggression” was being supported by the United States.
Police were deployed around the Old City and East Jerusalem amid fears of a violent backlash, but there were no reports of disturbances.
Earlier, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the closure as a “dangerous Israeli escalation” and warned of “serious repercussions.”
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.
Mahmoud al-Habash, Abbas’s religious affairs adviser, said the Palestinians “would not accept a change to the historic status quo in the Jerusalem sanctuary.”
Previous instances of Israel closing the site over violence have been met with riots and clashes with police.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan later hit back at Abbas and warned violence at the site would be met with a “tough response” from police.
“[Abbas] continues to lie and incite violence along with the terror organizations Murabitun and Hamas in an effort to ignite a blaze and cause a religious war at the Temple Mount,” he said in a statement, referring to a group banned by Israel.
השלכת בקבוק התבערה לעבר נקודת המשטרה בהר הבית: במהלך החיפושים שנערכו בשטח ההר נמצאו מספר מיכלים שהכילו חומרים דליקים, כוורות זיקוקים ובקבוקי תבערה. מעל 10 חשודים נעצרו ועוכבו לחקירה. כוחות ערוכים במקום, בעיר העתיקה ובמזרח ירושלים על מנת למנוע כל ניסיון להפר את הסדר הציבורי pic.twitter.com/2uA5n0pCus
— משטרת ישראל (@IL_police) March 12, 2019
The firebomb attack came as tensions over the holy site have ratcheted up in recent weeks over a long-sealed area on the compound near the Gate of Mercy.
Muslim worshipers have repeatedly threatened to enter the Gate of Mercy site, which was closed by court order in 2003 over allegations that the group overseeing it was tied to Hamas.
The longstanding closure of the site 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.
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 administers 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.
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.
Adam Rasgon, Judah Ari Gross and agencies contributed to this report.