JERUSALEM – Israeli police barred Muslim worshipers from entering the Aqsa Mosque grounds early Sunday morning and brief clashes broke out in nearby side streets two days after violence erupted in the holy site.
The police tried to prevent contact between Muslims and Jews who had entered the compound, and restricted Muslims already in the compound to a central part of the site. They provided a police escort to Jewish worshipers as they walked around the perimeter of the site known to Jews as the Temple Mount, site of an ancient temple considered the holiest site in Judaism.
Previously, Palestinians had gathered at the entrance used by non-Muslims to enter the grounds, blocking part of the route commonly used by Jews to pray discreetly near where the old Jewish temple once stood.
Clashes later broke out in the side streets around the mosque complex, as police used batons and sound grenades to push back Muslims attempting to enter. Palestinians shouted, “With our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice for Al Aqsa.”
Tensions are often high in the complex in Jerusalem’s Old City, which is sacred to both Islam and Judaism. But they are particularly tense at the moment due to a rare overlap between Ramadan and Passover, causing more Muslims and Jews to enter the site than usual.
Muslims view attempts by some Jewish activists to covertly pray at the site as a provocation, as they violate Israel’s long-standing policy of allowing Jews to visit but not pray. They also fear that Jewish prayer there will boost campaigns by small extremist groups to build a new Jewish temple on the site.
Many Muslims have also been angered by recent attempts by extremist Jews to enter the premises with young goats to make a Passover sacrifice. Police said last week they had arrested some activists who planned to make such a sacrifice.
On Friday, Israeli riot police, using rubber bullets and stun grenades, stormed the main mosque on the grounds to detain hundreds of Palestinians, many of whom had thrown rocks at them. More than 150 people were injured.
The recent clashes followed a spate of Palestinian attacks on Israelis and deadly Israeli attacks in the occupied West Bank.
Similar clashes at the mosque last year contributed to the outbreak of an 11-day war between Israel and Gaza militants led by Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the strip.
This year, however, both Israel and Hamas have indicated that they are not looking for escalation. Khaled Meshaal, a senior Hamas official, said on Saturday that both sides had communicated through Qatari officials that they did not want another conflagration.