JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli police fired sound grenades to disperse Palestinians during confrontations on Sunday outside Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque where tens of thousands of Muslim worshippers gathered for the Eid al-Adha holiday, witnesses said.
A Palestinian ambulance service said that at least 14 Palestinians were taken to hospitals for treatment. Israel’s Kan public radio said four police officers were injured.
Facing off with police in the packed compound outside Islam’s third-holiest site, Palestinians chanted “With our soul and blood we will redeem you, Aqsa”.
Scuffles ensued and the crowd fled as the sound grenades exploded and smoke wafted through the compound, witnesses said.
Revered by Jews as Temple Mount, the site of two biblical Jewish temples, and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, the area is one of the most sensitive sites in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Tensions had mounted at the flashpoint complex at the start of Eid al-Adha as the holiday overlapped this year with the Jewish fast day of Tisha B’Av, amid calls by Jewish nationalist and religious politicians for Jews to visit the holy compound.
In a statement, police said they had deployed forces at the site in anticipation of disturbances and “dispersed rioters”. It put the number of Muslim worshippers at the site at some 60,000.
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organization, accused Israel of provoking religious and political tension.
“The storming of al-Aqsa mosque compound by Israeli occupation forces this Eid morning is an act of recklessness and aggression,” she said in a statement.
The compound is situated in a part of Jerusalem captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in a move that has not been recognised internationally.
In an effort to avoid friction at the site, police barred the entry of non-Muslim visitors, including Jews, before the clashes erupted.
After the confrontations died down, Jerusalem District Police Chief Doron Yedid said on Kan radio that he had lifted the ban. Jewish visitors then entered the area under heavy police guard and no serious violence was reported.
Eid al-Adha commemorates God’s testing of Abraham’s faith by commanding him to sacrifice his son. Tisha B’Av marks the destruction of the two temples.
Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Susan Fenton