The hilltop shrine in the Old City of Jerusalem is the third holiest in Islam, while for Jews it is their holiest site, where two temples once stood. It is emotional ground zero for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a flashpoint for past rounds of violence.
Amateur videos of the scene appeared to show police using sponge-tipped plastic projectiles intended to be non-lethal as the protesters barricaded themselves inside the mosque. Police said an incendiary bomb thrown by one of the protesters set fire to a carpet outside the mosque, but it was quickly extinguished. No injuries were reported.
Israeli police said a large number of agents were deployed around Jerusalem’s historic Old City, home to religious sites for Jews, Christians and Muslims, amid concerns that clashes could affect the already tense situation in the city over the Jewish holiday of Passover and the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Palestinian militant groups said on Tuesday evening they were calling for “a general state of alert” and warning against Israeli radicals holding a flag march in Jerusalem.
“At this stage, the police do not approve the protest march under the requested layout,” the police said in a statement, without elaborating further. They could not be reached for comment on Wednesday about whether the march would be banned altogether, or only on the proposed route along the Damascus Gate.
In a similar situation last May, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired rockets at Jerusalem as Israeli nationalists marched toward the Old City with a flag. The events sparked an 11-day war between Israel and the Hamas militant group that rules Gaza.
Israeli-Palestinian tensions have escalated in recent weeks after a series of deadly attacks in Israel followed by military operations in the West Bank. On Monday, Palestinian militants fired a rocket from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel for the first time in months, to which Israel responded with airstrikes. These followed days of clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians at the holy site in Jerusalem.
Noam Nisan, one of the organizers of the planned march, told Kan public radio that this Wednesday would go ahead as planned. “A Jew with a flag in Jerusalem is not a provocation,” he said.
He said the demonstration was in response to buses being stoned to death earlier this week as they drove to the Western Wall, the holiest place for Jews to pray, located in Jerusalem’s Old City.