Temple Mount sees second day of clashes amid Jewish visits

Police say Arab rioters prepared stockpiles of rocks and firecrackers during the night in planned assault on visitors

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Muslim rioters on the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem clashed with police for the second day straight as authorities allowed tourists, including Jewish groups, to visit the area during the sensitive last 10 days of Ramadan.

Several Palestinians were reportedly injured by sponge-tipped bullets fired by security forces during the rioting.

In response, a Palestinian official warned of “consequences” to the Israeli “aggression” at the Jerusalem holy site.

Police had deployed additional forces there as a precaution after learning, it said, that “Arab youths, some of them masked, barricaded themselves during the night in the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount with the aim of confronting police, and to disrupt the regular visits and visitors in the Temple Mount area during the Ramadan holiday.”

Of the 263 visitors to the Temple Mount on Monday, 33 of them were Jews, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said in a statement.

According to police, the rioters stockpiled stones and other objects, including firecrackers, inside the Al-Aqsa mosque, “all of which was intended as a confrontation with police and security forces, to prevent them closing the doors and to disrupt the regular visits to the Temple Mount.”

Police sometimes push rioters on the Temple Mount into the mosque and then close the doors in order to contain them and prevent further clashes and stone-throwing.

As visitors began to arrive at the site, “Muslim youths, some of them masked, began to throw at the forces stones they had gathered in advance and piled up inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” police said, and noted that fireworks were also fired directly at security forces.

Border police and riot police confronted the crowds and pushed the rioters into the mosque, after which “visits by Jews and tourists continued as usual on the mount.”

At the conclusion of the visits the doors to the mosque were reopened and the rioting renewed.

Forces responded “with restraint but with determination” until quiet was restored, police said.

Palestinian Authority spokesman Youssef al-Mahmoud slammed police activity on the Temple Mount, warning of “consequences” for the “aggression” against the mosque and the worshipers within, and claiming the measures were a part of larger Israeli policy of targeting Palestinians, the official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.

“The aggression against al-Aqsa and offense against the worshipers is part of the [Israeli government’s] comprehensive plans of targeting the lands of the state of Palestine, our people, and especially the targeting of holy sites and religious symbols,” he said.

The PA spokesperson said the mosque belongs especially to the Palestinians as well as Arabs and Muslims by a historical right.

He stressed that the Israeli government is “fully responsible for the continual aggression against al-Aqsa” and for the safety of citizens and worshipers.

In a statement, Jerusalem police said “during the holiday of Ramadan, which began three weeks ago, the police acted with determination and professionalism, with an increased presence in Jerusalem and the surroundings, and with a focus on the Old City and the Temple Mount, with the aim of enabling hundreds of thousands of Muslim worshipers to celebrate the holiday in Jerusalem and on the Temple Mount.”

“Until now, the peace has been maintained, and hundreds of thousands of Muslims who reached Jerusalem and the Temple Mount celebrated the days of Ramadan without incident.”

Islamic officials have said that the recent trouble began when Israel allowed the visitors into the compound in breach of a tradition which only allows Muslim worshipers to enter during the last 10 days of Ramadan, which are now in progress.

The 10 days, which began on Sunday, are the most solemn for Muslims and the period attracts the highest number of worshipers to the site.

Clashes on the sensitive holy site in the past have sparked wider Palestinian violence in Jerusalem and beyond.

Following clashes on Sunday, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said that it took seven Palestinians to an East Jerusalem hospital for treatment of injuries caused by sponge-tipped bullets, tear gas and beatings at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. At least one police officer was injured in the clashes, and officers arrested four masked youths “who were disrupting visits on the Temple Mount” by non-Muslims, police said.

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