Violence engulfed the Temple Mount and the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City for a third consecutive day on Tuesday, following the Defense Ministry’s decree last week outlawing violent Islamist radical groups from entering the contested holy site.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that five Border Police officers were lightly wounded by rocks, firecrackers and pipe bombs thrown by masked Palestinian youths Tuesday morning shortly after visiting hours commenced at 7:45 a.m.
“For the third straight day Arabs rioted and attempted to attack police and visitors when visiting hours for non-Muslims began in the morning,” said Rosenfeld. “Police used non-lethal stun grenades to disperse the rioters, who fled into Al-Aksa Mosque, which police did not enter.”
After the mob was contained in the mosque, Rosenfeld said visiting hours for Jews and other non-Muslims resumed until 11 a.m. without further incident.
The wounded officers were treated at the scene by Magen David Adom paramedics, he said.
According to Amin Abu Ghazaleh, director of the Palestine Red Crescent Society emergency unit, 26 Palestinians were lightly injured during Tuesday’s clashes.
Although no arrests have been made on the Temple Mount since Sunday, Rosenfeld said over a dozen Palestinian youths, some of whom were lightly wounded, were apprehended in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City during separate rock throwing attacks on police and Jews. Following the spate of attacks, Rosenfeld said security has been markedly heightened in the area.
“Security assessments have been made and extra units have been called in to ensure no more attacks take place in the Old City or on the Temple Mount,” he said, adding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for an emergency meeting Tuesday night to discuss the ongoing violence.
In the meantime, Rosenfeld said that police will continue to allow non-Muslims to visit the Temple Mount.
The spike in violence on the compound and Old City began days after Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon signed a decree last Tuesday banning the Murabitun and Murabatat male and female Islamist activist groups, which gather on the Temple Mount to intimidate and shout at Jewish visitors on a daily basis.
Ya’alon’s office stated that he acted in line with a recommendation by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), as well as in accordance with the Israel Police’s view. He said he became convinced that the step was necessary to protect national security and public order.
The Islamist groups’ activities “create a central component in the creation of tension and violence on the Temple Mount in particular, and Jerusalem in general,” the defense minister’s office said.
Ya’alon described the radicals as engaging in “dangerous incitement” against tourists, visitors and worshipers on the Temple Mount, which leads to violence and could put lives at risk.
“The Murabitun and Murabatat’s goal is to undermine Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount, change the reality and the existing arrangements, and harm freedom of worship,” the defense minister’s office stated.
“They are linked to hostile Islamist organizations and are directed by them,” the statement continued, saying that the ministry’s decree received approval from Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein.
While emphasizing that the government views freedom of worship to all citizens and tourists who visit the Temple Mount, irrespective of religion, as a “basic, central, and important value,” Ya’alon said violence would no longer be tolerated under any circumstances.
“[W]e have no intention of allowing violent elements that incite [to violence] to harm public order and threaten the peace of worshipers, certainly in a sensitive and holy site like the Temple Mount,” his office said.
The Palestinian Authority on Tuesday strongly condemned Israel for allowing Jewish “extremists” to “storm” the Temple Mount, and imposing restrictions on Muslim worshipers.
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal phoned PA President Mahmoud Abbas and discussed with him the recent developments at the Temple Mount, Palestinian officials said. The two also discussed ways of ending the dispute between the PA and Hamas, the officials added.
In addition on Tuesday, Abbas phoned Jordan’s King Abdullah, discussing with him the latest developments at the Temple Mount amid Palestinian calls for a “day of rage” on Friday to protest against Israeli “assaults” on the Temple Mount and Muslim worshipers.
The PA government, which held its weekly meeting in Ramallah, accused the Israeli authorities of permitting Jewish “extremists” to carry out the largest “incursion” of the Aksa Mosque compound.
The government accused Israel of using “poisonous gas” to disperse Muslim worshipers during clashes at the compound over the past few days.
The PA condemned Israel’s decision to ban Muslim women and girls from entering the compound as a “crime against all religions and a flagrant assault on freedom of worship.” It said that Jerusalem and its holy sites were being subjected to “war crimes.”
The PLO Executive Committee held an emergency meeting in Ramallah and called for “confronting Israeli terror schemes” against the Islamic holy sites. The committee called for a meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the situation at the Temple Mount.
The PA Foreign Ministry called on the international community to intervene to stop Israel from “dragging the region to a religious war.” The ministry further accused Israel of seeking to divide the Temple Mount in time and place between Muslims and Jews.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas said that Israel’s recent actions in Jerusalem were tantamount to a declaration of war.
“The international community must move to stop the Israeli crime before the situation explodes,” said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. “Our people won’t allow the criminal Israeli scheme to pass.”
The United States and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon both voiced concern about the ongoing violence on the Mount, while Jordan’s King Abdullah said Israeli actions were provocative and could imperil ties between the countries, state media reported in Tuesday.
Jordan’s Hashemite dynasty derives part of its legitimacy from its traditional custodianship of the holy site.
“If this continues to happen...Jordan will have no choice but to take action,” King Abdullah, whose father King Hussein signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, was quoted as saying.
The tensions that led to the fighting are a product, at least in part, of growing Palestinian fears that Jews are visiting the Temple Mount as part of an Israeli plan to assert sovereignty over the site, or to divide it.
Although sovereignty of Judaism’s holiest site – where the First and Second Temples once stood – was reclaimed by Israel during the 1967 War, it granted Jordan’s Wakf religious trust oversight of Islam’s third holiest site to avert unrest.
However, the arrangement has resulted in a highly contested and volatile “status quo” that severely limits Jewish visitation and precludes Jewish prayer of any kind, while granting Muslim worshipers unlimited access and prayer rights.
Jewish activists, led by Yehudah Glick, have been increasingly pushing the government to allow Jewish prayer on the compound since Glick was nearly killed in an assassination attempt for his advocacy last year.
On Tuesday, acting Israel Police Commissioner Asst.- Ch. Bentzi Sau said that the police are in the midst of “a nationwide operational effort” to increase security with the greatest emphasis on Jerusalem, where he said “unfortunately we see over the past three days attempts by a number of different players to inflame and incite the security situation in the city and harm the coexistence in the city.”
Sau said that, in light of the situation, police will continue to reinforce their officers in the city while allowing access to holy sites for all three religions. The reinforcements so far have consisted of hundreds of additional officers sent to patrol.
He added that police see recent events as “a new escalation,” in particular the smuggling of pipe bombs onto the Temple Mount, as well as the use of firebombs by rioters on the mount.
He said that where they have the intelligence to reach those responsible, they will make arrests and seek indictments.
Sau’s comments came following a meeting held with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and other security officials at the Western Wall complex, to discuss the recent violence and how to proceed.
On Sunday, Erdan said that the violence on the eve of the holiday “obligates us all to take into consideration the arrangements on the Mount.”
He added that “it’s unacceptable that Muslim rioters would barricade themselves overnight on the Temple Mount and turn this holy place into a battle field.”
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat issued a statement on Tuesday night condemning the ongoing Muslim violence on the Temple Mount, while adding that there will be no changes to the holy site’s tenuous status quo.
“The government must not allow the Temple Mount to serve as a haven for terrorists under any circumstances,” Barkat said. “[It] must act fearlessly to restore order, peace and sanctity to the holy site.”
“We are committed to maintaining freedom of religion and the status quo in Jerusalem,” the statement continued. “I vigorously condemn the cynical use of this freedom by extremists who transform holy sites into places of terror. Jerusalem’s mosques, churches and synagogues will not harbor violence, just like the Vatican, Mecca and other sites around the world.”
Meanwhile, in a separate incident on Tuesday afternoon, a Palestinian throwing a firebomb was shot in the legs and lightly wounded during a clash with the IDF near Tulkarm.
An army spokeswoman said that the clash began when rioters hurled rocks and firebombs at soldiers.
The IDF initially responded by using non-lethal riot dispersal means.
During the course of the clash, the spokeswoman said, a “central instigator threw a firebomb. Soldiers fired at his legs and struck him. As far as we know, he was lightly injured.”
The injured man was evacuated to a Palestinian hospital for medical treatment.
Earlier on Tuesday, soldiers patrolling the Gaza Strip border heard gunshots fired in their direction from the Gazan side of the border.
The IDF unit responded by firing back, and a suspected attacker was hit by the return fire, according to the army.Reuters contributed to this report.