JERUSALEM— Israeli police briefly clashed with Palestinian protesters at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site early Sunday, raising tensions in the holy city ahead of the Jewish New Year.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said forces moved into the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound at around 7 a.m. Sunday after police received reports that protesters were planning to disrupt visits to the area by Jewish worshippers and tourists.
He said the protesters barricaded themselves inside the mosque and threw rocks and firecrackers at police. He said police did not enter the mosque, but removed barricades around the building. Suspected pipe bombs were found at the entrance to the mosque, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.
Police released video showing lit firecrackers and other objects thrown by Palestinians inside the mosque at the officers on the outside with some firecrackers exploding within the holy site.
There were no reports of arrests or injuries. The site was closed for three hours during the standoff but then re-opened for visitors.
Local video footage shows a Jewish man wearing a traditional prayer shawl attacked as he passed through an alleyway close by in the old city. It shows attackers throwing water bottles at him and then tripping him up and kicking him. Police said Muslim women protesting nearby had thrown objects at him and then “passing Arabs” beat him.
The hilltop compound is revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, site of the two biblical Jewish temples.
Muslims call the site the Noble Sanctuary and revere it as the spot where they believe their Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
The site is a frequent flashpoint of violence. Since Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967, Jewish worshippers have been allowed to visit — but not pray — at the site. The area is administered by Muslim authorities and is under Jordanian custody. Muslim authorities view the presence of Jewish worshippers and Israeli police as a provocation and accuse Jewish extremists of plotting to take over the site.
Abdelazem Salhab, an official with the Waqf, the Islamic body that runs the site, accused police of causing “wide damage” inside the mosque. “They crashed many windows and damaged many carpets,” he said.
“Jews have no rights in the mosque and its courtyard,” he said. “The role of Israeli authorities as the occupying power is protecting this site from non-Muslims who plan to take it over, not helping them.”
Police said they did not enter the site, and that any damage was caused by fireworks ignited by Palestinian protesters inside.
Video later released by police showed Ahmed Tibi, an Arab lawmaker in Israel’s parliament, yelling at officers and calling their presence “a provocation.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel is committed to preserving the compound’s status quo, but would not tolerate violence at the holy site.
“It is our duty and our right to act against law breakers to enable freedom of worship at this holy site. We will act assertively against those throwing rocks, firebombs, pipe bombs or any other device,” he said.
In neighboring Jordan, government spokesman Mohammad Momani called on Israel to end its “provocative acts.”