Israeli police arrested 16 Palestinians at one of Jerusalem’s most revered and politically sensitive holy sites on Sunday as they dispersed protesters opposed to any Jewish attempts to pray there.
A police spokesman said officers used stun grenades to disperse dozens of rioters, who threw rocks and firecrackers at them at the site revered by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and by Jews as the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem’s walled Old City.
Two officers were slightly injured and treated at the scene in the brief clash, the spokesman added. Five Palestinians were also slightly hurt, a Muslim clergyman said.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the plaza near the al Aqsa mosque had remained open to visitors during the clash, which was confined to a small area. Police did not enter the mosque, he said.
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Tensions at the site run high during Jewish holidays – Jews are currently celebrating Passover – when Palestinians oppose having Jews try to pray on the compound.
Another eight Palestinian protesters were arrested following a disturbance at the holy site on Friday, Rosenfeld added.
Aware of the volatile mix of politics and religion, Israel has largely stopped Jewish prayer on the plaza overlooking Judaism’s Western Wall since capturing East Jerusalem along with the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war.
Police routinely escort foreign and Israeli visitors to the compound and intervene if they make any attempt to hold prayers there. The site also houses the golden Dome of the Rock, where Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammad ascended to heaven.
Sovereignty over the compound is at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Palestinians want to make East Jerusalem the capital of the state they aim to establish in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Israel, citing historical and biblical links, regards all of Jerusalem as its capital, a claim that is not recognised internationally.