Some 300 Muslim worshippers who had barricaded themselves inside al-Aksa Mosque amid violent scenes on Jerusalem's Temple Mount left the holy site on Friday afternoon. Fifteen policemen were wounded in fierce clashes with Muslim worshippers who attacked police with Molotov cocktails, rocks and glass bottles on and around the Mount, while the Western Wall was evacuated to ensure the safety of Jewish worshippers.
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Hundreds were protesting against the restricted access to Friday afternoon prayers at al-Aksa Mosque imposed by Israel amid fears of unrest over the excavation work near the Temple Mount.
Some 200 policemen streamed onto the Temple Mount compound to try to quell the violence, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
Police fired stun grenades and 17 arrests were made. 18 Muslim rioters were wounded in the scuffles.
Rosenfeld told reporters Friday that 200 police entered the mosque compound Friday but denies allegations that they entered the mosque itself while prayers were going on. Rosenfeld claims that police only reacted when, at end of prayers, they were confronted by a bombardment of stones by youth.
He added that the violence was incited during the afternoon prayers and that up to 150 youth were inside the mosque. There was a dialogue, he said, between Jerusalem District Police and the representatives of the Muslim community that aided in eventually dispersing the Muslim youth.
Rosenfeld claimed that police only used batons and stun-grenades to disperse protesters and denies the use of rubber bullets in the clashes.
He called the Temple Mount violence "unnecessary and a shame," and added that police have stepped back but were prepared to deal with any future disturbances to the peace.
Arabs protests also took place in the West Bank towns of Tulkarm and Jenin and at the Kalandiya border crossing, as well as in the Israeli-Arab town of Nazareth in northern Israel. By Friday evening protests in Nazareth came to an end.
Earlier, five Arab youths were arrested on suspicion of throwing stones at police during protests on Salah al-Din road in east Jerusalem.
Muslim entry to the Temple Mount had been restricted to men over the age of 45 with Israeli IDs as some 3,000 police officers - more than double the normal amount - were deployed throughout the Old City and nearby areas of east Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, in an interview with Israel Radio on Friday morning, archaeologist Meir Ben Dov, who headed previous excavation work at the Temple Mount site, said there was no need for the renovations to be carried out at the Mughrabi Gate and that the planned bridge was not required.
Ben Dov added that the excavations near the Temple Mount were illegal and that Israel had not received the required permits.
Also on Friday morning, Arab countries appealed to the United Nations Security Council to put a stop to the excavation work.
Representatives of the countries called on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to conduct a debate on the issue next week, Israel Radio reported.