Palestinians fear imminent Israeli moves to alter the Muslims’ exclusive control of Al-Aqsa.
Clashes have erupted after a number of Israeli soldiers entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, police and witnesses said.
The presidency strongly condemns the attack by the occupier's military and police against the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the aggression against the faithful who were there.
The Israeli security personnel used tear gas and stun grenades, as they entered the compound to arrest what they called Palestinian “stone throwers”.
Omar Kiswani, the manager of Al-Aqsa Mosque, told Al Jazeera that 80 “Jewish settlers” protected by the Israeli police, attacked the mosque when confronted by Palestinian volunteer guards.
A statement issued by the Israeli police said that “masked protesters who were inside the mosque threw stones and fireworks at police”.
A Muslim witness accused police of entering the mosque and causing damage, saying prayer mats were partially burned.
Clashes later continued outside the mosque complex, with police firing tear gas and stun grenades.
Israeli security forces closed the mosque’s compound to worshippers following the clashes that come just hours before the start of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned what he called an “attack” by Israeli authorities.
“The presidency strongly condemns the attack by the occupier’s military and police against the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the aggression against the faithful who were there,” a statement from his office said.
— Dr. Basem Naim (@basemn63) September 13, 2015
Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesman for Israeli police, said that the Israeli police received intelligence in the morning about the possible disturbances at Al-Aqsa Mosque that would involve explosive devices as well as stones thrown at Jewish visitors.
“…[O]ur police officers entered the area, I am talking about the Temple Mount area only, and shut the front doors of the Al-Aqsa Mosque to prevent those riots from overflowing onto the Temple Mount area.
“Our police units took the situation under control from 20 to 25 minutes only using stun grenades, non-lethal weapons only to make sure that situation remained calm.”
‘Israeli police lying’
Mustafa Barghouti, the secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative, said that the Israeli police were being dishonest.
“The Israeli police are lying, they have lied before and they are lying again,” he said.
“I think what happened today is an act of aggression on the part of the Israeli army,” he said, adding that right-wing Jewish settlers provoked Palestinians when they entered the mosque.
“This is unacceptable.”
Al Jazeera’s Scott Heidler, reporting from Jerusalem, said there are some reports that Jewish groups and Jewish activists who are not supposed to pray in the Al-Aqsa compound got in there, and this is what could have triggered the clashes.
“We are hearing that the minister of agriculture, a member of a right-wing political party here in Israel, was waiting to get into the compound this morning. If that directly sparked what we saw, it is difficult to say,” Heidler said.
The disturbances came with tensions running high after Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon last week banned two Muslim groups from entering the mosque compound – Islam’s third holiest site.
Israel seized East Jerusalem, where Al-Aqsa is located, in the Six Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move not recognised by the international community.