Israeli security forces have clashed with hundreds of Palestinian worshippers at the al-Aqsa mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem.
Witnesses told Al Jazeera that Sunday’s confrontation between Israeli forces and Palestinians began after officers entered the compound.
Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab, reporting from Jerusalem, said police forces used stun grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets against the Palestinians.
“It doesn’t appear as if the clashes went far beyond the gate where police entered, nor are there reports of any injuries,” he said.
The confrontations at al-Aqsa come at a very tense time.
Over the past several days, there have been frequent confrontations between Israeli security forces and Palestinian worshippers who go to the site.
Al-Aqsa Mosque is Islam’s third holiest site after Saudi Arabia’s Mecca and Medina.
Men aged below 40 years are often prohibited from entering the mosque and the compound. “No age limit was placed on Muslims this morning because of the holiday,” said Israeli spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld, referring to Eid al-Adha.
“As a result of that, there were men of all ages at the compound who took advantage of the situation and attacked police with stones,” Rosenfeld told Al Jazeera. “The rioters were dispersed with stun grenades, and many went inside the mosque and closed the doors. Police did not enter the mosque.”
On Monday, however, Muslim men under the age of 50 will be restricted from visiting the site, while women will face no age restrictions, the Jerusalem District Police announced on Sunday night.
Joint Arab List
A separate statement issued by the police lashed out at Palestinian politicians in the Israeli Knesset. “The members of the Knesset from the Joint [Arab] List who arrived at the Temple Mount [did not] stop the desecration of the site by paint, stones and firecrackers,” it reads.
The statement also singles out Hanin Zoabi, an influential Palestinian Knesset member who spoke at the mosque on Sunday morning, for “inflam[ing] passions, leading to clashes and harm to security forces and innocent civilians”.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Zoabi dismissed the claim that the Palestinian legislators were the root of the clashes. “The Israeli police have no right to enter the al-Aqsa compound and provoke Palestinian people in the first place,” she said. “They are violating human rights and international law by preventing Muslims from practising their religion.”
Along with activists from East Jerusalem and Palestinian communities in Israel, the politicians went to the mosque on Sunday with the hope of preventing Jewish groups from entering the compound.
“There is no way to prevent them from taking al-Aqsa other than to struggle and to refuse normalising the new Israeli policies [that aim] to divide al-Aqsa,” Zoabi said. “We refuse these plans completely.”
In recent weeks, particularly during the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah, there were clashes which damaged parts of the mosque.
At least 150 Palestinians, including many children, were detained across East Jerusalem between September 14 and September 23, according to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club rights group.
Ayed Abu Eqtaish, accountability director for Defence for Children International – Palestine, told Al Jazeera that “many children have been arrested in Jerusalem during recent days”.
“It’s hard to know exactly how many because some are detained and released after a few hours, but others are still being held,” Abu Eqtaish said. “Our research shows that, in general, most Palestinian children arrested in Jerusalem are subjected to physical violence.”
According to Rafat Sub Laban, advocacy officer at Addameer Prisoner Support Network, Israeli authorities “banned at least five Palestinian residents of Jerusalem from the al-Aqsa Mosque on Sunday morning. They are not allowed to return to the compound for 15 days”.
Efforts by Israeli police to allow Jewish activists to tour the courtyards of the mosque have stirred strong reactions from Palestinians, who fear Israel may change the rules for visiting the compound.
The violence occurred just hours before the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which began on Sunday evening. During the week-long holiday, many Jews visit Jerusalem.
– Reporting by Patrick Strickland and Imtiaz Tyab