Israeli forces on Sunday stormed the most sensitive holy shrine in Jerusalem, firing stun grenades and water cannons at hundreds of Palestinian protesters who pelted stones injuring of them. The renewed violent clashes on the hilltop complex called al-Haram al-Sharif by Muslims and The Temple Mount by Jews left three policemen lightly injured when forces tried to flush out protesters holed up inside the al-Aqsa mosque.
Palestinian protesters poured oil on the floor to stop the Israeli froces from entering the complex, a flashpoint where in the past clashes have turned into deadly violence. Police entered the holy compound and arrested twelve Palestinians, including senior Fatah member Khatem Abdel Kader, who is charge of the Jerusalem portfolio in the Palestinian organisation, eye witnesses said.
Kader was arrested at the Temple Mount plaza after allegedly rioting, assaulting policemen and calling on worshippers to launch a parade, police said. The hilltop site was closed for Muslim worshippers and visitors following the clashes. Palestinians and members of the Waqf, which manages the site, reported that at least eight worshippers were injured, but Israel police denied any knowledge of injuries among the protesters. The head of the Israeli police force, however, denied that the police entered the al-Aqsa Mosque. He said they had no plans to do so.
Police said the disturbances began when officers were accompanying a group of tourists up to the mount, and several Muslim youngsters were caught on video camera preparing to cause trouble, including pouring oil onto the ground to hinder the access of security forces and the visitors. Clashes at the site in 2000 had resulted in eruption of the second intifada that led to loss of thousands of lives. The site is revered as the holiest site in Judaism, home to the biblical Temples, and considered the third holiest site in Islam.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque and famous gold covered Dome of the Rock lie within this compound. The violence came after Israeli police's announcement yesterday that they would beef up their forces today around the Temple Mount following calls by Muslim leaders urging Arabs to defend Jerusalem against "Jewish conquest." Arab lawmaker in the Israeli parliament, Ahmad Tibi, also tried to enter the complex but was stopped by the police. "This is extremely severe," Tibi said in response adding, "The police are violating the law. It's not in their authority. The al-Aqsa Mosque is not a closed military zone."
Police Commissioner Dudi Cohen called upon Muslim leaders to stop inciting the crowd during a visit to the area. "I identify many large groups of east Jerusalem Arabs and Israeli Arabs who have arrived here following calls by the Islamic Movement, whose leaders are here. I call on them to practice restraint and calm and not to incite," he said. The police accused elements in the Islamic Movement and Hamas of inflaming the situation. PTI