Jerusalem – Clashes erupted between Muslim worshippers and Israeli police in East Jerusalem’s holy site on Sunday, which drew condemnation from the Palestinian government.
Video footage taken by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, an Islamic religious trust that controls and manages the Al-Aqsa Mosque, showed the police fired stun grenades at worshippers there.
Ikrima Sabri, a preacher at the scene, told Xinhua by telephone that the Israeli police "stormed into the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and tried to evict worshippers out of it by force."
The Palestinian Red Crescent said at least 14 Palestinians were injured as the Israeli police stormed the mosque.
Israeli police said in a statement thousands of Muslim worshippers were rioting and hurling stones, chairs and other objects at the police, adding four police officers were lightly wounded in the clashes.
"The district commander ordered the dispersal of the rioters … and restored the public order," the statement said.
Israeli media reported that the clashes had subsided but later erupted again after Jewish visitors were allowed to enter the site to mark a Jewish holiday. The clashes sparked fresh tensions and condemnation from Palestine.
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee, held Israel responsible for "fuelling religious tensions in Jerusalem."
"We condemn this aggression, which is reprehensible and dangerous," Ashrawi said in a statement.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, held the Israeli government responsible for "settlers’ incursions" into the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
In a statement published by official news agency WAFA, Rudeineh said Abbas is holding contacts with "all relevant parties to stop the Israeli escalation" against the Palestinian people and holy sites, warning Israel not to "transform this conflict from a political one into a religious one."
Since Sunday marks the beginning of the Eid al-Adha, or the "Festival of the Sacrifice," thousands of Palestinian worshippers arrived at the Al-Aqsa compound for prayer.
This year, the Islamic festival coincides with the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av, a day of mourning for Jews, which therefore sees an increased number of Israeli visitors to the holy site in Jerusalem. In an attempt to avoid friction, the Israeli police first barred Israeli visitors on Sunday, but following calls by right-wing political leaders, the site was opened to visitors, resulting in a fresh round of clashes.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is one of the most volatile sites in the region.
Under a long-held status quo, Israeli Jews are allowed to visit the site but not to pray there. In recent years, ultra-nationalist Israeli Jews have been challenging the status quo, demanding the government increase the numbers of Jewish visitors to the site and allow prayers.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future independent state, while Israel wants all Jerusalem to be its eternal capital.
Israel annexed East Jerusalem in the 1967 war and declared the entire city as its eternal indivisible capital in 1980, a move that has never been recognized by most of the international community.