JERUSALEM — Israeli police blocked Muslim worshipers from entering the Aqsa Mosque compound early Sunday morning and brief clashes broke out in nearby streets, two days after violence erupted at the holy site.
The police, seeking to prevent any contact between Muslims and Jews who had entered the compound, confined the Muslims who were already there to a central part of the site. They provided Jewish worshipers with a police escort as they roamed the perimeter of the site, known as the Temple Mount to Jews, which was the location of an ancient temple considered Judaism’s holiest site. .
Previously, Palestinians had gathered near the entrance used by non-Muslims to enter the site, blocking part of the road usually used by Jews to pray quietly near where the ancient jewish temple.
Clashes then broke out in the side streets around the mosque compound, as police used batons and stun grenades to push back Muslims trying to enter. The Palestinians shouted: “With our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for Al Aqsa.
Tensions are often high in Jerusalem’s Old City complex, which is sacred to both Islam and Judaism. But they are particularly tense at the moment due to a rare overlap between Ramadan and Passover, which has prompted more Muslims and Jews to enter the site than usual.
Muslims view the efforts of some Jewish activists to stealthily pray at the site as a provocation, as they violate Israel’s long-standing policy of allowing Jews to visit but not to pray. They also fear that Jewish prayer could give impetus to campaigns by small extremist groups to build a new Jewish temple on the site.
Many Muslims have also been angered by recent efforts by extremist Jews to enter the compound with young goats to make a Passover sacrifice. Police said last week they had arrested activists planning such a sacrifice.
On Friday, Israeli riot police, firing rubber bullets and stun grenades, stormed the compound’s main mosque to arrest hundreds of Palestinians, many of whom were throwing rocks at them. More than 150 people were injured.
The recent clashes followed a wave of Palestinian attacks on Israelis and deadly Israeli raids in the occupied West Bank.
Similar clashes at the mosque last year helped spark an 11-day war between Israel and militants in Gaza led by Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the strip.
This year, however, Israel and Hamas have signaled that they are not looking for an escalation. Khaled Meshaal, a senior Hamas official, said on Saturday that both sides had made it clear through Qatari officials that they did not want another conflagration.