Muslim Firebombers Attack Police on Temple Mount

Islamists camped out at Al Aqsa Mosque overnight attack police with rocks and firebombs Monday morning, igniting a small fire.

Ari Soffer , | updated: 8:39 PM

Police face rioters on Temple Mount
Police face rioters on Temple Mount
Police Spokesman's Unit

New clashes broke out Monday between Muslim extremists and Israeli police on the Temple Mount, as Islamist groups mobilized to prevent an expected increase in Jewish visitors to the site over the Sukkot holiday.

Police fired tear gas and stun grenades while rioting Arab youths who had pledged a day earlier to "defend" the Al-Aqsa Mosque threw rocks and firebombs before barricading themselves inside the mosque itself.

Islamist extremists had slept overnight at the mosque and barricaded themselves in, while stockpiling rocks, petrol bombs and other weapons to use against police during the clashes, which caused a small fire at the entrance to the building.  

Sources with the Jordanian-run Waqf organisation that administers the site claimed that police stun grenades "provoked" four fires inside the building that were brought under control.

The Palestinian Red Crescent reported 22 people wounded, with three hospitalised after being hit by rubber bullets, including one person struck in the face while inside the mosque.  

Police said negotiations to have the youths leave had failed, leaving them no choice but to carry out the raid to keep them from disrupting visits to the site. Dozens of officers deployed, including on the mosque's roof.

Muslim worshipers who were at the compound after morning prayers as the raid began were forced to leave and all gates used by Muslims to enter the site were closed. Some remained near the gates and chanted in protest.

Regular visits by non-Muslims permitted between 7:30 am and 11:00 am were then allowed to go ahead, according to police.

The Temple Mount has been the scene of repeated clashes in recent weeks, provoking international calls for calm. The highly sensitive site is the holiest in Judaism, and also known as the "Al Aqsa compound" to Muslims, housing a large Islamic complex built on the ruins of two Jewish temples.

Recent weeks have seen a series of Jewish holidays which have led to an increase in visits by Jews - a phenomenon Islamist groups are determined to stop. The same situation is feared over Sukkot, an eight-day religious feast that began on Sunday night.

Jews are allowed to visit the site, but are banned from praying there, despite its status as the holiest site in Judaism, due to threats of violence by Muslims. 

Brief clashes had also broken out on Sunday, and afterwards young Palestinian protesters were seen preparing to "defend" the mosque during Sukkot, stocking rocks and other projectiles inside the shrine, barricading doors and planning to sleep there.

Visits by Jews were stopped and age restrictions on Muslim men entering the compound lifted during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which was celebrated from Thursday to Sunday.

However, a ban on Muslims under 50 was re-imposed as Sukkot started.

Jews celebrate Sukkot, or the Fest of Tabernacles, to commemorate their journey through the Sinai wilderness to the Holy Land after their Exodus from Egyptian slavery. It is also the Jewish harvest festival celebrating the fruits of the holy land.

The radical northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel and the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, which claims to represent Arab communities in Israel, had urged Muslims to go to the compound to confront police and prevent Jewish visits.

"Al-Aqsa is a holy place, but it is also a national symbol for Palestinians and all Arabs," Sheikh Kamal Khabit, deputy head of the Islamic Movement, said.  

"Jewish extremists want to destroy Al-Aqsa to build a third temple."

The first and second Jewish temples were located at the site and destroyed by the Babylonians and the Romans respectively. The Islamic complex - including the Dome of the Rock shrine - were built many centuries later atop their ruins.

In past raids, Israeli police have briefly entered the mosque to close the door on stone-throwing rioters inside and restore calm to the compound.

This month over the Jewish New Year holiday, or Rosh Hashanah, police raided the compound to stop what they said were plans by Palestinian youths to disrupt visits to the site.

AFP contributed to this report.