OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Dozens of Palestinians were wounded in clashes with Israeli police that erupted Wednesday when Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound was opened to Jewish visitors, an AFP correspondent said.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP that Palestinians threw “stones and firecrackers” at police when they opened the walled compound’s gates.
Police responded with stun grenades, Rosenfeld said, and closed the complex to Jewish visitors after a small number had toured the site.
An AFP correspondent at the scene said dozens of Palestinians were wounded by rubber-coated bullets and stun grenade canisters, and were staying inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque out of fear they would be arrested when leaving.
The compound houses the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.
It is also revered as the location of the biblical Jewish temples and is considered Judaism’s holiest place.
Rosenfeld said the situation on “Temple Mount,” the Jewish term for the complex, was “calm again” and police had left the site.
Non-Muslim visits to the Al-Aqsa complex are permitted and regulated by police, but Jews are not allowed to pray at the site.
Jews are marking Passover, a seven-day holiday which in ancient times was marked by mass pilgrimage to the Temple Mount.
Police Monday arrested five Jews suspected of intending to sacrifice a goat at the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex, in a bid to re-enact an ancient Passover ritual.
Tensions in the area have been rising due to a breakdown in peace talks and the deaths of a Palestinian and Israeli this week.
In Ramallah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hosted a small delegation of Israeli lawmakers to discuss the troubled peace efforts.
Abbas’ spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeina, said the visit showed that there were “glimpses of hope” for peace. Rudeina also added that Abbas condemned “violence by anyone against anyone.”
Baruch Mizrahi, a high-ranking officer in the intelligence division, was shot dead Monday evening while driving with his family southwest of Idhna, a village outside Hebron.
Palestine Liberation Organization official Mohammad al-Madani urged the Israelis to adopt a similarly constructive stance.
“We hope also to hear from the Israeli side a condemnation of daily killings of Palestinians by the Israeli army,” Madani said.
Since Jan. 1, seven Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank, and 10 in Gaza, according to an AFP tally.
The current round of peace talks is set to end on April 29. After nearly nine months of fruitless negotiations, U.S. mediators have been trying to win an agreement to extend the talks beyond the current deadline.
A meeting between the sides was canceled Wednesday while they waited for American mediator Martin Indyk to return from a brief break in the U.S, a Palestinian official said. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of a pledge to the Americans not to discuss the negotiations, said talks were expected to resume Thursday after Indyk’s return.