OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli forces in Jerusalem on Wednesday after authorities limited access for Muslim worshippers to the flashpoint Al Aqsa Mosque compound, police said.
An Israeli minister, meanwhile, threatened to close the entire compound unless Jews are allowed to pray there.
Four Palestinians were arrested and three police were injured in the confrontation, security spokeswoman Luba Samri said.
Israeli forces used stun grenades as a crowd of about 400 people gathered near the entrance to the mosque, according to an AFP photographer.
For the second time in a week, authorities restricted access to the esplanade on Wednesday, allowing only Palestinians aged over 50 to enter.
The violence was the latest in a series of face-offs between Palestinians and Israeli forces in the Old City of Jerusalem.
On Monday, demonstrators angered by Jews being granted access to Al Aqsa compound — Islam’s third holiest site — clashed with security officers after morning prayers.
The site is the scene of frequent tensions and houses Islamic holy sites the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque. It is revered by Jews who claim it is the location of the biblical Jewish temple, considered Judaism’s holiest place.
Non-Muslim visits to Al Aqsa complex are permitted and regulated by Israeli forces, but Jews are not allowed to pray at the site for fear it could trigger major disturbances.
Jews pray instead at the Western Wall below.
Around 100 Israelis were given access on Wednesday to the square outside the mosque, accompanied by foreign tourists.
Knesset member Jamal Zahalka, from the Arab Balad Party, told AFP he feared “tens of thousands” of Jewish pilgrims would be allowed inside Al Aqsa compound.
“This is no longer just a group of extremists, this is a demand made by the Israeli political class and even the [state] rabbinate,” he told AFP.
Jerusalem’s Grand Mufti Muhammad Hussein insisted that the compound was “a holy site for Muslims only”.
Israeli Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch threatened on Tuesday to close the compound entirely if members of the two faiths could not pray there peacefully.
“We want [the compound] to stay open for Muslims and Jews, but if Jews can’t go there, neither can Muslims,” the minister was quoted as saying by military radio.
Tensions between the two communities have spread to other parts of East Jerusalem.
On Tuesday night a bus and a tram carrying Israelis were stoned, injuring one security officer, and a Palestinian man was assaulted by three Israelis who were later taken into custody.
SOURCE: THE JORDAN TIMES