Middle East

Israel police, protesters clash at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque

A Palestinian man stands behind Israeli security forces standing guard at an alleyway leading to the al-Aqsa Mosque compound on February 25, 2014 in the Old City of Jerusalem.(AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLI)

JERUSALEM: Israeli police clashed with stone-throwing Palestinians Tuesday in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound of Jerusalem's Old City, ahead of a parliamentary debate on Jewish access to the site, holy to both faiths.

Israel captured the Old City from Jordan during the 1967 Six Day War. But the compound, the holiest place in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam, has been administered by Jordan since the two countries signed a peace treaty in 1994.

Tuesday evening, the Knesset (parliament) held the first part of a debate called by right wingers demanding that Israel end its practise of forbidding Jewish prayer at the compound.

In Jordan, meanwhile, opposition Islamists urged the government to freeze the treaty with the Jewish state, fiercely objecting to any change in the status of Jerusalem's Muslim sites.

Israeli security forces entered the Al-Aqsa compound just after 7:30 am (0530 GMT), and fired stun grenades and rubber bullets to disperse Palestinian protesters, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP.

He said there was "high tension" ahead of the parliamentary debate.

Stones thrown by the Palestinians injured two policemen, and three protesters were arrested, he said.

Palestinian medics said 15 protesters were wounded by rubber bullets.

Azzam al-Khatib, director of the Islamic Waqf (religious endowments) body that oversees the site, said he had called for a closure of access to the compound to avoid clashes.

"Since yesterday we've been demanding the closure of the Maghabira gate, because of the provocations and statements against Muslims by various right-wing parties," he told AFP.

The compound is a flashpoint because of its significance to both Muslims and Jews.

Sitting above the Western Wall plaza, it houses the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque.

It was previously the site of the first and second Jewish temples and is known to Jews as Temple Mount.

In a motion for the Knesset agenda, which was not put to a vote, MP Moshe Feiglin, a hardline member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, said Israel's fear of igniting Muslim rage amounted to discrimination against Jews.

"Behind the people's backs we have given up on every shred of sovereignty over the Temple Mount," he said.

"Any terror organisation can raise its flag there (but) there can be no trace of the Israeli flag. Reading from the psalms is forbidden and police even advise (Jews) to remove skullcaps from their heads."

"Only Jews are forbidden to pray at this place," he told the almost-empty parliament.

Zehava Gal-On, from the leftwing opposition Meretz party, accused Feiglin and his supporters of seeking to torpedo US-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

"Those who today are calling for (Jews) to go up to the Temple Mount at this sensitive point are throwing a match into a powder keg," she said.

"You and your friends are trying to endanger Israel... to shackle the peace process and not leave the question of sovereignty over the Temple Mount to be decided in negotiations."

After capturing east Jerusalem, which includes the Old City, Israel later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community. But under the 1994 peace treaty, Jordan retained authority over all Muslim sites in the city.

Jordan's opposition latched onto the Israeli debate as justification for severing ties with the Jewish state.

"We urge the government to meet the demands of people who have repeatedly called for freezing and eventually cancelling the peace treaty," the Islamic Action Front said on its website.

Jordanian officials were not immediately available for comment.

Earlier this month a panel of Jordanian MPs warned that "Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa represent a red line."





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