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Violence erupts outside Old City over Temple Mount restrictions

One cop, 8 Palestinians hurt in Wadi Joz as protesters throw rocks, water bottles and set off fireworks, police respond with tear gas; rioting at Qalandiya

Israeli security forces stand guard in front of Palestinian Muslim worshipers outside Lions Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem, July 21, 2017. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)
Israeli security forces stand guard in front of Palestinian Muslim worshipers outside Lions Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem, July 21, 2017. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

Rioting broke out in the Wadi Joz area north of Jerusalem’s Old City between Muslim worshipers attempting to reach the Temple Mount for Friday prayers and Israeli police.

At least one police officer and eight Palestinians were lightly hurt in the early afternoon clashes, according to reports. There were no immediate reports of serious injuries.

The worshipers were protesting new security procedures at the holy site imposed by the Israel Police after last Friday’s deadly terror attack there that left two police officers dead. Muslim leaders instructed those wishing to pray not to agree to pass through the metal detector gates posted at the Temple Mount. Only a few Palestinians agreed to security checks and entered the site on Friday, with thousands more praying or protesting at various sites around the city.

At Wadi Joz, rioters threw rocks and water bottles at police, and some set off fireworks. Police responded with tear gas, pushing back the crowd.

Many cars parked along the road were damaged. Rioters set a dumpster on fire, but the fire was soon put out by residents.

Local residents were also seen intervening in the clash and demanding that the protesters stop throwing rocks.

At least one Palestinian was arrested.

Violence was also reported at the Qalandiya checkpoint north of Jerusalem, where some 150 Palestinians threw rocks at security forces. Police responded with tear gas and stun grenades.

Several thousand police officers were deployed around the Old City and at entrances to Jerusalem in concentric rings amid a tense security standoff in anticipation of violent riots by Muslim worshipers.

Israeli security forces stand guard in front of Palestinian Muslim worshipers outside Lions Gate , July 21, 2017. (Micah Danney/Times of Israel)
Israeli security forces stand guard in front of Palestinian Muslim worshipers outside Lions Gate, July 21, 2017. (Micah Danney/Times of Israel)

Muslim leaders urged worshipers from around the country to flood into the holy site in protest of Israel’s decision early Friday to continue to employ metal detectors at the entrances to the Al-Aqsa compound.

Dozens of buses filled with worshipers were turned back at police checkpoints at Jerusalem’s entrances on Friday.

A police checkpoint on Route 1, the main highway into the city, is pulling aside public transportation vehicles to ask passengers if they are headed to the Temple Mount.

Large crowds of Palestinians have nevertheless gathered at various entrances to the Old City, including at the Lions Gate to the Temple Mount, where many began chants vowing to “redeem Al-Aqsa” and calling for the expulsion of the Jews.

Following the deadly attack last Friday, Israel initially closed the site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, as it searched for more weapons.

The compound, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock shrine, was reopened Sunday with metal detectors installed, a step Palestinians protested as a change to the longstanding status quo. Israel denied this and noted that those who enter the Western Wall plaza below have long been required to pass through metal detectors.

The Temple Mount is the holiest place to Jews as the site of the biblical temples.

Earlier Friday police said they had intelligence that said “extremist elements” intended “to cause violent disruptions to the public order, and thereby to threaten the public peace, including the [safety] of those coming to pray at the holy sites and other residents of the area.”

A statement released earlier by the Prime Minister’s Office said that the high-level security cabinet voted early Friday to grant the Israel Police the authority to decide which security measures would be implemented at the holy site.

“The cabinet has authorized the Israel Police to make any decision in order to ensure free access to the holy sites while upholding security and public order,” read the statement after some four hours of late-night consultations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ministers and security chiefs.

Newly elected Labor leader Avi Gabbay addresses supporters in Tel Aviv after winning the party's leadership primaries on July 10, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)
Newly elected Labor leader Avi Gabbay addresses supporters in Tel Aviv after winning the party’s leadership primaries on July 10, 2017. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

The decision drew criticism from opposition leaders. Avi Gabbay, newly elected leader of the Labor Party, criticized the lack of a clear decision by the political echelon.

“A cabinet which holds discussions on serious political and security issues must make a decision, not pass responsibility on to the police,” Gabbay tweeted. “I support the security forces and believe they will rise to the challenge,” he added.

Following the consultations, police continued the operation of the metal detectors and restricted entry to young men, allowing only those over 50 or women of any age to enter the Old City.

In addition, dozens of makeshift checkpoints were set up in and around the Old City and police patrols were bolstered in the alleyways and on paths taken by Jewish and Muslim worshipers to the Temple Mount and Western Wall.

Checkpoints set up by police ion the Old City to check worshipers on their way to the Temple Mount, July 21, 2017. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)
Checkpoints set up by police in the Old City of Jerusalem to check worshipers on their way to the Temple Mount, July 21, 2017. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

Checkpoints at the entrances to Jerusalem were also bolstered and Palestinian media sources reported a number of buses bringing worshipers to Jerusalem were turned away by the IDF. Some reports said more than 30 buses were stopped from entering the city.

Friday prayers on the Muslim holy day are the busiest time in the week at the Temple Mount, with tens of thousands expected to arrive at the compound. The Palestinian terror group Hamas called for mass protests on Friday against the increased security measures.

Muslim clerics have also been urging the faithful to skip prayers in neighborhood mosques on Friday and converge on the shrine, in an attempt to draw larger crowds. Worshipers have also been asked this week to pray in the streets rather than submit to the new security procedures.

Palestinian media reported that several key East Jerusalem figures were arrested overnight on suspicion of encouraging violent protests. Among those under arrest were Fatah’s secretary-general in Jerusalem Adnan Ghaith and the head of the city’s Palestinian Prisoners’ Families Committee Amjad Abu Assab.

Over 3,000 police officers are deployed in the Old City area, police have said.

In addition to the heavily bolstered police presence, the army announced Thursday that five battalions would be made available to deal with violence in and around the capital.

The IDF also canceled all leave over the weekend, keeping all units at full strength in anticipation of possible violence in the West Bank.

Master Sgt. Kamil Shnaan, left, and Master Sgt. Haiel Sitawe, right, the police officers killed in the terror attack next to the Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem on July 14, 2017. (Israel Police)
Master Sgt. Kamil Shnaan, left, and Master Sgt. Haiel Sitawe, right, the police officers killed in the terror attack next to the Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem on July 14, 2017. (Israel Police)

Palestinian officials have denounced the increased security at the site as a change in the delicate status quo that governs the site. Israel has denied this, saying the new measures were necessitated by last Friday’s attack, in which three Arab-Israelis emerged armed from the compound and shot dead two Israeli police officers stationed just outside. On Thursday, Israel police released video footage showing the weapons being smuggled onto the Mount.

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