Tensions flare on mosque esplanade in Old City of East Jerusalem

Clashes are continuing on Sunday afternoon on the mosque esplanade where two mosques Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock are situated in the Old City of East Jerusalem.

In the morning, there were reports saying hat Jewish worshippers protected by Israeli police (armed of course) had entered the mosque esplanade — which is called the Temple Mount in Israel — in advance of the very serious Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, a day of fasting and annual repentance.

Palestinians had been on alert since Thursday, when Al-Quds newspaper published a report saying (at least according to an SMS summary): “Extremist Jews plan to break into al-Aqsa Mosque on Sunday, similar incident occurs in Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron”.

Apparently, Palestinians present on the mosque esplanade began throwing stones at the group that turned up Sunday morning.

Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police then spread out of the mosque compound and into the streets of the Old City.

There were injuries both to Palestinians and to the Israeli police.

The Jerusalem Post reports that the visitors to the mosque compound were Jewish. But a comment left on the Ma’an News Agency website, posted at 13h12, and signed by Dr. Aaron Lerner of IMRA, Israel, informs readers that the visitors were not Israel, and were not even Jewish: “French non-Jewish tourists were pelted with rocks when they visited – not Israelis”. The Ma’an article and this comment can be viewed here.

Ma’an later added that “On Sunday morning, the French news agency AFP reported that ‘a group of some 200 mostly religious and right-wing Jews had gathered in the early morning at the gate through which police allow tourists access’. But there were also conflicting reports about the group spotted prior to the clashes. An Israeli police spokesman, who initially said the visitors belonged to the Jewish group, later insisted it was actually a group of French nationals that toured the compound”.

Ma’an reported that “Palestinians threw stones, chairs, and shoes at the Israelis, while Israeli forces injured 37 Palestinians during attempts to forcefully disperse them with batons and stun grenades. On Thursday, the Al-Aqsa Foundation had warned that Israeli authorities were planning to permit
settlers entrance to the area. Officials in East Jerusalem predicted that the break-in would occur on Sunday under the pretext of marking Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement. Fierce clashes erupted outside the compound near Majlis Gate, one of the main entrances to the mosque, after police prevented Palestinian worshippers from entering the area, according to witnesses. Hundreds of Jerusalemites and Palestinians living inside Israel hurried to the mosque compound when word of the clashes spread, but Israeli police closed all entrances in what they said was an effort to contain the fighting. Demonstrators gathered outside the main gates, chanting and denouncing the occupation and alleged assaults against holy places and residents in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Israeli police prevented Islamic notables such as Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, chief of the Islamic Supreme Committee and grand mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine, from accessing Al-Aqsa. Also denied access was Hatim Abdul Qader, former PA minister of Jerusalem affairs and current Fatah representative on Jerusalem. Israeli police produced an order preventing Abdul-Qadir from accessing Al-Aqsa until further notice, under the pretext that he urged demonstrators to gather at the compound to counter settler groups attempting to break into the mosque area”. This Ma’an report can be read in full here.

A Palestinian Authority Minister for Waqf Affairs Mahmoud Habaash told jouralists at a press conference in Ramallah that the UN Security Council should meet on the matter. There were reports that Hamas and other Palestinian factions were calling for public protests.

The JPost adds that Israeli police used stun grenades and tear gas to repel the stone-throwers, and that Jewish worshippers praying at the Western Wall — believed to have been part of the second and probably also even the first Jewish temple — continued without interruption, although the Temple Mount was subsequently closed off to visitors, the JPost reported. The JPost added that an Palestinian official working with the Al-Aqsa mosque said that stones were thrown only after police used force.

The JPost also reported that “Police raised their alert status across the country for fear of further violence”.

The Israeli police had announced in advance that their preparations for the Yom Kippur holiday had focused on “mixed” Israeli towns which have many Arab inhabitants — to avoid a repetition of “riots” that had taken place last year in Akka between Jews and Arabs.

While acts of violence have reportedly been fewer in recent months, tension is noticeably higher,most specifically in East Jerusalem.

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